Our recovery from COVID-19 should be rooted in reconciliation

Sometimes when I’m telling a story, especially to younger kids, I’ll let a moment slip into a pause, then see a hand shoot up and hear “and then what happened?” This isn’t bad for a storyteller; it means you have an eager audience, itching to find out how the story ends. 

Those of us living through this moment in time might face this question years from now as we tell children, grandkids, nieces and nephews about how we lived through the pandemic and made it out the other side.

What will we tell them?

When I tell my story about living alongside COVID-19, I hope I’ll be able to say that the challenge was met with compassion and visions of how we can rebuild better. 

To tell that story, we’ll need a plan rooted in principles of innovation, inclusion and reconciliation. We must will look to find solutions for challenges that existed not only during, but also before this sickness struck our society.

Five years ago today, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released 94 Calls to Action guided by the testimony of those who survived residential school.

Of course, this anniversary will largely be overshadowed by the pandemic, but as we turn our attention to recovery in the coming months, we must recognize what the Calls to Action reveal about what wasn’t working before and how to change things.

During the pandemic, young people have taken on extra responsibility. They’ve made sure elders and those at higher risk from the virus have supplies. They’ve also made sure other youth have resources to combat feelings of isolation resulting from physical distancing. 

Max FineDay is executive director of Canadian Roots Exchange. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

Since distancing began, Canadian Roots Exchange — the education-based non-profit for which I am executive director — has supported projects created by youth, for youth, to ensure that the hardships Indigenous young people faced before COVID-19 weren’t made worse by it. These projects prioritized mental health, cultural connection and returning to the land in a safe way. 

If young people can organize such impactful projects in a matter of days, imagine the calibre of ideas we would see coming from them over a longer term, given the opportunity.

As we recover from the pandemic, we must open the door to Indigenous youth’s ideas and innovation. The TRC shows us how.

Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Murray Sinclair says the public at large still struggles with that they can do. Here’s his advice. 6:58

Call to Action 66 urges the federal government to support Indigenous youth organizations and projects.

In the 2019 federal budget, the government announced Canadian Roots Exchange would pilot what that could, and should, look like.

Supporting Indigenous youth in their vision for truth, healing, justice and reconciliation is a powerful act that the TRC commissioners envisioned and one Indigenous youth have called for ourselves.

Over five years, Canadians held public events recognizing Indigenous history, giving acknowledgement, but reconciliation has yet to arrive. Calls to Action go unanswered. People are still largely unsure what to do. 

The TRC was about building an understanding of our history, a capacity to listen to truth and solutions to complex issues of inequality.

We are, again, at the beginning of a great building moment.

To build we must support Indigenous youth in developing their visions. Advancing Call to Action 66 should be part of the pandemic recovery plan for every sector, level of government and region in the country, because our recovery will be judged on how we enable success for the most marginalized.

Indigenous youth are overlooked in Canada, despite being the fastest growing demographic. We have a chance to end that neglect now. The TRC and Call to Action 66 show us how, but we have to give it life through action.

We are living in the middle of a story we will tell for decades to come. In telling this story we may be asked, “and then what happened?”

I hope I’ll be able to say that we chose a recovery rooted in reconciliation. I’m working hard to make that a reality.

I hope you will too.

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

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