Confronting the truth brings healing

Written by Brenda Schimke

“The parties must decide whether they will continue to sit beside the trail or move forward in a spirit of reconciliation”, words spoken by Justice Paul Favel of the Federal Court in 2019. He denied the government’s request to set aside the Human Rights Tribunal 2016 judgment compensating First Nations children who experienced life-long hardships as a result of chronic underfunding of family and child services on reserve. 

“Negotiations”, he said, “could help realize the goal of reconciliation and would be the preferred outcome for both Indigenous people and Canada.”

We will never know if Justice Favel’s wise words had an impact on the government’s decision to cease 14 years of litigation, but on January 4, the federal government, the Assembly of First Nations, and Chiefs of Ontario came to a negotiated settlement.

We do know that trust is a key component for any negotiated settlement. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper never garnered that trust with First Nations and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had the talk, but proved in his first six years in office that he had no substance.

Recently Trudeau did one thing right. He appointed Marc Miller Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister, and Patty Hajdu Indigenous Services Minister two of the most sincere and humble politicians of our time. Their talk and their actions have always shown genuine love and respect for our Indigenous peoples.

The quality of a democracy, our society and our collective souls is displayed by how we treat each other, our ability to acknowledge wrong and our commitment to try and right the wrong.

After our shameful history with residential schools, we then subjected First Nations children living on reserves and in the Yukon territory to a family services system whose two main funding mechanisms incentivized removing First Nation’s children from their families and communities.

It is estimated that there are 115,000 children who were separated from family and community because the previous and current federal governments wouldn’t accept the root cause was poverty—inadequate housing, food security and clothing. Not forgotten in the settlement are the parents and grandparents who had their children and grandchildren ripped away, some at the moment of birth.

This settlement also covers an additional 100,000 children plus, who were discriminated against because the government did not provide timely health, education and social services, better known as Jordan’s Principle.

Half of the $40B settlement will go to the children, parents and grandparents, a minimum of $40,000 each with more for those who spent longer time in the system.

The other half, thankfully, will go to changing the system with First Nations and government officials working together. Hopefully this initiative will end wasteful and unsatisfactory lawsuits and class actions—the only recourse until now for Indigenous peoples to get the attention of the voting public and force the government’s hand.

Unlike most countries, Canadians seem much more willing to acknowledge the truth and commit to reconciliation. That should give us all hope for 2022.

The truth is hard to confront—murdered and missing women, over-representation of aboriginals in our justice system, decades-long boil water orders, residential schools, discovery of aboriginal children in unmarked graves, discriminatory funding for education and family and child services on reserves, the forced loss of culture and languages, industrial expansion without meaningful consultation and discriminatory policing.

This negotiated settlement is an acknowledgement that our Indigenous children have always been treated differently than other Canadian children. 

It’s another small step forward to help cleanse our nation’s soul and restore our Indigenous peoples.


Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.