Last week’s discovery of 215 Indigenous children’s remains found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School rightfully caused Canada to pause and reflect on the legacy of residential schools and the woefully unheeded recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015.
The news has uncovered so much grief for Canada, and particularly so for Indigenous families and residential school survivors. It is a stark reminder of the centuries-old occupation of these lands that forms the very basis of our nation, and the generational trauma that has affected — and continues to affect — Indigenous peoples on this land. This discovery is no mere “dark chapter in history” being unearthed, as it is often portrayed; it is current, it is palpable, and it underlines every aspect of Canadian life.
It is also a reminder that the non-profit sector — no matter the intentions and impacts of charitable work in communities — are largely occupiers who have long benefitted from colonialism and subjugation. Should one stop to reflect on the sector and its structures, it becomes apparent that structural inequities influence everything from funding and hiring to program development and delivery. It’s high time we as a sector consider the ways that we fundamentally contribute to continues injustice and inequity. The time for reflection is past; it’s time to move toward action.
ECVO staff have spent the last week reflecting on our place in decolonization and advancing the 94 TRC Calls to Action. As a capacity-builder and an advocate, we have a responsibility to push conversations forward and to ensure that we are supporting an equitable future for the sector.
- As a thought leader, we commit to holding necessary conversations about the sector’s fundamental flaws and opportunities for transformation. Our recently published report, Transforming the Non-Profit Community in Edmonton: Myths, Trends, and Areas for Change, introduces a framework for a dramatic shift in the sector towards greater diverse, inclusivity, and equity. It reflects the first phase in an ongoing project to inspire transformative thinking throughout the non-profit community, and there are many more conversations to come.
- As an advocate, we commit to adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework, and encouraging all non-profits and charitable organizations to do the same. We commit to advocating to funders and governments that UNDRIP principles should be included as part of expectations and agreements with non-profit organizations.
- As a capacity-builder, we commit to incorporating Indigenous perspectives and knowledge systems into our programming. It’s no longer sufficient to build capacity in the sector that merely reinforces the status quo in our organizations. Moving forward, we will inspire organizations to think critically and differently about the fundamentals of non-profit operations and governance.
- As a convenor and amplifier, we commit to sharing more Indigenous stories and perspectives through our communications and creating opportunities to amplify the work of Indigenous-led organizations in Edmonton.
- As a member-based non-profit, we commit to creating more opportunities for Indigenous organizations to build capacity and achieve their missions. As such, when our new membership program launches on July 1, we have made a commitment that all Edmonton-based Indigenous community organizations can receive a membership — and the benefits it entails — with zero annual fee for perpetuity.
Our Message to the Sector
True change and transformation requires group effort. A few organizations here and there committing to change will not get us far as a sector. If we want real change — if we want to move towards reconciliation and justice — we must act together to change the systems and structures that have long formed the basis of the sector.
We encourage all non-profits to:
- Read and re-read the 94 Calls to Action, consider where your organization can contribute to their advancement, and advocate to the federal government to implement the Calls. With only 8 of 94 Actions completed, as a nation we are far, far behind.
- Become acquainted with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and consider how your organization may or may not be following the framework.
- Educate your teams on the legacy of residential schools and the intergenerational trauma that they created in so many people on this land. Consider enrolling as a team in the University of Alberta’s free Indigenous Canada online course.
- Advocate to the provincial government and your MLA to work with First Nations to survey sites for unmarked graves at Alberta’s numerous former residential schools.
- Advocate for increased funding to Indigenous-led organizations and to issues that Indigenous Peoples have identified as having a funding need.