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Reconciliation means closing poverty gap says AFN chief


Last updated 7/31/2015 at 5:24pm

Assembly of First Nations

AFN Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde

OTTAWA, ON-On the eve of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission releasing their final report, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief had to use strong words. AFN Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde stated that "closing the social and economic gap is a linchpin in reconciling Aboriginal People to the rest of Canada."

"I urge everybody across Canada to rid themselves of things like the misconceptions about Indigenous peoples, the discriminatory, racist attitudes that may exist, to move them out so that new things may come in," Bellegarde said at a news conference in Ottawa.

"We do have a shared history, and we do have a shared responsibility going forward."

The march in Ottawa drew thousands of Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people and drew attention to the week's conclusion of a six-year-long Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which released its final report and recommendations after hearing testimony from 7,000 former students of residential schools.

According to Bellegarde, the march was "a very powerful testament about what we can do when we start working together to bring about change in this country."

What reconciliation requires

Reconciliation requires that the truth be told about Residential Schools and their devastating inter-generational social fallout, Bellegarde added.

Residential schools were "a dark chapter in Canadian history. It was cultural genocide. Recognizing this should frame future Aboriginal policy," he said.

The AFN Grand Chief added that treaty and Aboriginal rights should be a part of school curriculums from kindergarten through Grade 12 across Canada. But resuscitating the country's 58 Aboriginal languages should be a priority, he said.

"If there can be just as much effort to enhance, preserve and promote indigenous languages as there was to get rid of them that would really be reconciliation," Bellegarde said.

Reconciliation can't proceed while First Nations are mired in the "poverty that plagues our people," he said.

According to Bellegarde, one in four First Nations children live in poverty, 120 First Nations communities are under boil water advisories and only 35 per cent of Aboriginal students graduate.

"When we close the gap that's good for everybody. When you invest in education and proper housing that's good for everybody," he said.

According to CBC News, the TRC was commissioned in 2009 to study the legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada. In the past six years, the commissioners interviewed more than 7,000 people across the country. The final report will fill six volumes and is more than two million words.


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