In September 2016, the Ontario government issued a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action in a document titled The Journey Together. In it, the Ontario government laid out new and continuing programs, policies, and strategies to promote reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Ontario. The plan was released alongside an official apology from Premier Kathleen Wynn for the province’s role in the residential school systems operation and perpetuation. The Journey Together represents Ontario’s commitment to reconciliation with First Nations, outlining new and continuing commitments and strategies to address the legacy of Residential Schools.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was struck out in 2008 following the apology of the Canadian Government for operating the residential school system, and a class action lawsuit brought against the government obliged them to, among other things, establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC completed its mandate in 2014 at a national event in Ottawa. This final event included releasing the executive summary for the final report and a set of 94 Calls to Action which would enable governments and communities to effectively respond to the legacy of residential schools.
The Ontario Government also entered into a Political Accord with First Nations of Ontario in 2015. This accord represented the key principles that the relationship between First Nations and the Ontario government. It was signed by both Premier Kathleen Wynn and Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day. The Political Accord included commitments to the inherent Indigenous right to self-governance, joint actions on priorities, and twice yearly leadership meetings. The Journey Together compliments these priorities.
The commitments made within The Journey Together fall into five categories: understanding the legacy of residential schools, closing gaps and removing barriers, creating a culturally relevant and responsive justice system, supporting Indigenous culture, and reconciling relationships with Indigenous peoples.
These categories come with a planned financial commitment of over $250 million over three years, with the funding directed towards programs that will focus on reconciliation and be co-developed with First Nations. Broken down into each category within the document, the commitments are as follows:
- Addressing the legacy of Residential Schools: up to $20 million
- Closing gaps and removing barriers (child care, mental health services, education reform, etc.): up to $150 million
- Create a culturally relevant and responsive justice system: up to $45 million
- Supporting Indigenous cultural revitalization: up to $30 million
- Reconciling relationships with Indigenous peoples: up to $5 million
In addition, this document lays out a number of strategies that play a part in Ontario’s journey to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. They include:
- Walking Together: Ontario’s Long-Term Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women
- The Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Strategy
- The Indigenous Education Strategy
- The Ontario First Nations Health Action Plan
- Ontario’s Indigenous Child and Youth Strategy (OICYS)
- Correctional Services Transformation Strategy
- Provincial Culture Strategy
- Strategy for a Safer Ontario
Generally speaking, The Journey Together was well received as a step towards reconciliation. That said, there was some reason for pause. It was a unilateral document, completed without consulting with First Nations. It also had significant dollar figures without clear guidelines into implementation.
One Year Update:
In June 2017, the Ontario government released a one year progress update on The Journey Together, which outlined the successes that the province had achieved in the previous year. Significant areas of progress include:
- Addressing the legacy of residential schools by investing in a legacy and memorial structure in Toronto and restoring Mohawk Institute in Brantford
- Developing anti-racism measures
- Significant new investment in new or expanded mental health resources
- Investment in child care and early years programming on and off reserve, to the tune of up to $93.5 million
- Work towards a new Social Emergency Action Plan
- Recreation opportunities for remote northerly First Nations
- Expansion of the Gladue program in Ontario’s courts
- An Indigenous language strategy
- The establishment of an Indigenous Culture Fund ($5 million annually)
- Symbolic gestures such as renaming the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs to the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation (MIRR) and acknowledging treaties and traditional territories in official speeches
This one-year update demonstrates that the government took seriously its commitment to reconciliation. Still, many of the details concerning implementation remain unclear – this is largely because implementation is tied to working with communities, and therefore depends largely on local context and the response to program and policy requests for proposals.
While the one-year update does include significant investments in key areas of importance to First Nations peoples, there are major gaps between the original commitments and the update. For example, the one-year update did not address:
- The Indigenous Housing Strategy
- Resource Revenue Sharing
- Working towards an Aboriginal Institutes Policy
- Missing Children, Burials, and Residential School Records
- Classification of First Nation schools within the Education Act
- Indigenous Bail and Remand programs
- Cultural supports within the correctional system
- A Ceremonial Garden in Toronto
- Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
Absence from the update does not indicate a complete lack of movement on these matters. For example, MIRR had met with PTOs, COO, and Independent First Nations in fall 2016 to develop a protocol for resource revenue sharing, but there is very little publicly available information because the discussions are ongoing.
The Journey Together is an important document which will continue to guide the relationship between the province and the 133 First Nations within its borders. The Chiefs of Ontario is committed to ensuring that the province is held accountable to the commitments it has made in this document.
Full text of The Journey Together is available here.
Full text of the one year update is available here.
For analysis of particular policies, strategies, and programs, click the links within this page.