Indigenous peoples in Canada and Australia share rich and diverse cultural histories, languages and cultural practices. Indigenous peoples from both countries also share similar challenges and struggles resulting from colonial histories that include residential schools, the ‘Sixties Scoop’ (Canada) the ‘Stolen Generation’ (Australia), land dispossession, and intergenerational trauma. This historical trauma has contributed to higher suicide rates, lower socioeconomic conditions, inequity, lower educational attainment levels, higher incarceration rates, and higher alcohol and substance abuse.
Although there has been movement in Canada and Australia towards reconciliation policies and practices, there is still a long way to go. In addition, we argue that reconciliation is a two-way process that includes strong relationship building between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Within the context of reconciliation, Indigenous peoples must be empowered to lead in the reconciliation process, including opportunities for regional, national and international dialogues that are Indigenous-led.
So, what does ‘reconciliation’ mean for government, NGO’s, the private sector and industry when working with Indigenous peoples? This post will examine concepts of reconciliation, including how good Indigenous relations strategies can contribute to reconciliation processes in both Canada and Australia.
What does ‘reconciliation’ mean? Reconciliation is a complex subject that can take on different meanings at the individual, community, national and international levels. At the individual level, reconciliation may take on a very personal meaning depending on personal and familial histories of colonialism and one’s place within it. For example, for a residential school survivor, reconciliation may mean justice or healing from past trauma. For a non-Indigenous person, reconciliation may include a personal mission to be a good ally for Indigenous peoples. At the [Indigenous] community level, reconciliation may include recognition of sovereignty and Indigenous rights for self-governance and social/environmental/economic prosperity. At the national level, reconciliation examines treaty rights, land claims, justice and remuneration for residential school survivors (e.g. Canada).
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Another significant step for reconciliation includes the recognition and full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Declaration recognizes Indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination, human rights, language and culture, equity and land rights. The Government of Australia adopted the UNDRIP in 2009. In Canada, the UNDRIP was not officially adopted by the Government of Canada until 2016 (however, to date, the UNDRIP has not been integrated into Canadian law). Although the UNDRIP has been adopted by both the Australian and Canadian governments, Indigenous peoples in both countries continue to struggle with social, environmental, and economic challenges. Until the UNDRIP is fully integrated in constitutional law, policy, and put into practice, it will serve as theory instead of practiced in action. (Click here to learn more about the UNDRIP).
Indigenous Relations and Economic Development
Within the context of reconciliation movements in Canada and Australia, what does good ‘Indigenous relations’ look like and why is it important? Good Indigenous relations strategies include working directly with Indigenous peoples and communities, especially when the decisions being made will directly affect the lives of Indigenous peoples.
With the rich cultural diversity of Indigenous peoples in Canada and Australia, it is evident that the best holders of local knowledge are the Indigenous peoples from the traditional territories and lands that they have historically situated and have inherent rights to. Thus, when considering economic development projects in Indigenous communities, it is important to consult local Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples also hold valuable cultural knowledge, which may be beneficial to development projects (e.g. Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), and an intimate knowledge of local ecosystems,).
Indigenous communities in Canada are recognized by Indigenous peoples as sovereign ‘nations’ and have their own social, economic and governance systems. When engaging Indigenous communities for economic development projects, it is important that Indigenous community representatives are fully included in the decision-making and negotiations processes. Proper consultation and accommodation includes having the endorsement from an Indigenous community, which includes a process of relationship building, that can lead to partnership ventures and/or benefit agreements designed to champion community advancement and opportunities.