Programs applied to Indigenous peoples that are designed without the input or support of Indigenous peoples do not work. With the help of efforts like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, clear evidence has been presented that shows paternalistic policies were, at best, often destined for failure and, at worst, instruments of repression.

Since governments have started working with Indigenous peoples, opening up opportunities for more impactful inclusion and leadership in the design and delivery of programs, results have begun to improve. Successes that were once only anecdotal can now be measured and are proving beyond doubt that culturally relevant programs are far more effective.

The journey of reconciliation means understanding Canada’s true history and working together to improve outcomes and opportunities for Indigenous people. This means clearing space for Indigenous people to develop, build, teach and lead in these initiatives. The commitments outlined in Ontario’s Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission include new actions over five key areas:

  • Understanding the Legacy of Residential Schools
  • Closing Gaps and Removing Barriers
  • Creating a Culturally Relevant and Responsive Justice System
  • Supporting Indigenous Culture
  • Reconciling Relationships with Indigenous Peoples.

Ontario released a one-year progress report to highlight major milestones and status of the commitments made under its response. Major progress on reconciliation commitments is ongoing and extends across ministries and government initiatives.

Understanding the legacy of residential schools

Working with Indigenous partners, Ontario is committed to commemorating the memory of survivors and preserving historical records related to residential schools, as well as to addressing systemic racism targeting Indigenous peoples.

Recent progress:

  • To honour and respect some Indigenous nation’s traditions, recent legislative changes mean parents can now register the birth of their children with a single name. Until January 2022, the Ontario government is also waiving name-change fees for residential school survivors and their families who want to reclaim names changed by the residential school system.
  • The Ontario government supports the Woodland Cultural Centre in its efforts to restore, repurpose and create a significant international Indigenous and national heritage site based on the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford.

Closing gaps and removing barriers

Ontario’s 2016 Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set out additional actions that specifically address the root causes of social disparities experienced by Indigenous populations across the province.

These efforts span a range of social services, including childcare supports, mental health and addiction support and suicide prevention initiatives, among others.

Recent progress:

  • Implemented prevention initiatives in First Nations like Pikangikum First Nation and Sandy Lake First Nation with the goal of improving outcomes for children, youth and their families.
  • Supported the new Mino Ayaa Ta Win Healing Centre in Fort Frances to increase access to culturally appropriate mental health and addictions services for First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario.

Supporting Indigenous culture

The forcible removal into residential schools robbed Indigenous children of their identity and reduced parents’ ability to share language and culture. This has led to intergenerational trauma in many families across Indigenous communities. That’s why supporting efforts to restore and celebrate language and culture are so important to long-term reconciliation efforts.

Recent progress:

  • Following successful pilot youth culture camps in Fort Albany First Nation and Pikangikum First Nation, the province is supporting the delivery of 12 regional youth leadership camps and more than 40 community-led cultural camps by 2019.
  • Launched in summer 2017, the Indigenous Culture Fund supports First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities, culture and way of life. The goals of the fund are to support cultural priorities and activities as defined by Indigenous peoples.

Reconciling relationships with Indigenous peoples

Non-Indigenous people in Ontario, most particularly Crown governments, need to re-build and revitalize relationships with Indigenous peoples based on respect and understanding. This is why Ontario is taking steps to apply a model of reconciliation to the work done every day by all public servants.

Ontario’s approach to Indigenous relations and reconciliation is rooted in a commitment to establish and maintain constructive, co-operative relationships based on mutual respect that lead to improved opportunities for all Indigenous peoples, which is consistent with the values reflected in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Since 2009, Ontario has called on the federal government to endorse the declaration. Ontario is committed to working in partnership with Canada and Indigenous partners as the federal government moves forward on its national plan to implement the declaration.

Recent progress:

  • Using the term “Indigenous” in government ministries and programs, where appropriate.
  • Acknowledging treaties within ministers’ statements, the Public Service Oath of Office and government-issued documents.
  • Establishing processes to incorporate Elder and youth advice into government decision-making.
  • Translating government documents into Indigenous languages where feasible.