The Importance of Truth & Reconciliation for Indigenous Peoples in Canada

The Importance of Truth & Reconciliation for Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Indigenous Resource Network - Indigenous Employment in Oil and Gas

Fostering economic growth and development in Indigenous communities is crucial to reconciliation. Indigenous involvement in natural resource projects is the obvious answer.

As we tuck our orange shirts into the drawer, I wonder how many Canadians authentically grasp the concept of Truth and Reconciliation for Indigenous Peoples. Why is it so important, and why don’t Indigenous Peoples just move on? And what does working in natural resources have anything to do with Truth and Reconciliation?

Truth & Reconciliation

Between the 1870s and 1997, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend church-run, government-funded schools. In 1894, the Indian Act was amended to authorize the government to remove children from their homes by Indian Agents and/or Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). In these schools, the children were meant to learn English, Christianity, and assimilate into the “white” culture. Instead, many children never returned home. Indigenous families turned childless, not knowing where their children were and even if they were alive.

Testimonies of horrific torture, sexual, physical and mental abuse lead to many suicides and preventable deaths through the hands of those meant to care for the children.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented 94 “calls to action” recommending to reconcile relationships between Canadians and Indigenous Peoples. As of 2020, just eight of those recommendations had been worked on. 

Renewed Call for Reconciliation Action: Unmarked Graves Bring New Light 

Indigenous Resource Network - Member Quote

The unmarked graves found in various residential school grounds in 2021 brought new light to the atrocities that happened to Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

There are 630 First Nations communities in Canada, representing First Nation, Inuit and Métis.  Roughly 1.65 million people in Canada identify as Indigenous Canadians. Their stories are being heard. And the 94 calls to action are being looked at again. The world is watching Canada now.

Reflection & Acknowledgment: Why We Can’tJust Move On

Imagine the distrust you would have in a government that forcibly took your children. Imagine the skepticism you might have of police, Indian Agents, and authority figures?

Not surprisingly, many Indigenous people maintain this distrust. It often manifests as incarceration, hospitalization, mental health issues, suicide, addictions, unemployment, and minimal education, but not always.

With the new resurgence of Indigenous culture and unmarked graves coming into focus, Indigenous people are coming together to express the need for change. Economic reconciliation, including involvement in resource projects, is essential to support those changes.

Ninety-Four Calls to Action & Economic Reconciliation

Indigenous Resource Netowrk - Joe Whitehead Jr.

Ninety-four calls to action reconfirm the commitment needed from the government to the Canadian Indigenous people. Amongst them, employment is one of the key factors that immensely improve the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples.   

Being able to prosper from responsible natural resource development changes the socio-economic issues prevalent in Indigenous communities without any other major income source. Government-issued income to Indigenous Peoples creates an unhealthy form of dependency. When government policies prevent Indigenous business partnerships with natural resource development, they are also setting back the advancement of Indigenous Peoples. 

In contrast, Canada’s resource sector boasts partnerships with Indigenous communities that are the recognized global best practice. Natural resource projects typically happen near or around Indigenous communities and involve strong partnerships with these communities, providing some of the best opportunities for economic equity, ownership and independence. The resource sectors are also currently the largest employers of Indigenous workers.   

It is part of Indigenous culture to work the land, i.e. natural resources! When done responsibly and with involvement and commitment to employ Indigenous Peoples, the long-term benefits of natural resource development will positively affect generations upon generations within Indigenous communities. The orange shirt will be a reminder, and the trauma of the past will be healed in time.

About the Author

Estella Petersen - Heavy Equipment Operator & Indigenous Woman in the Oil Sands

Estella Petersen is a heavy machinery operator in the oil sands out of Fort McMurray. Estella is from the Cowessess Reserve and is passionate about Canada and supporting Canadian natural resources.