November 18, 2015 (Saskatoon, SK) – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde today addressed an audience of university presidents and faculty, students, Indigenous leaders, and federal and provincial officials to set out a vision for the role of universities in giving life to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and ensuring First Nations peoples and languages remain strong and valued.
“It’s often said that Canada was created by two founding nations, English and French,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “With respect, I challenge that. We have 58 Indigenous nations that opened their arms and welcomed our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters when they first arrived. Our languages should be viewed as national treasures. I often wonder if the government spent just as much trying to revitalize our languages as they did trying to destroy them, what would that look like? Universities, in teaching languages from across the world, should also be making it a priority to offer Indigenous language programs or degrees that focus not only on comprehension, but also methods for revitalization.”
Today’s conference, Building Reconciliation: Universities Answering the TRC’s Calls to Action, was held at the University of Saskatchewan and focused on the 94 recommendations issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on June 2nd of this year. The Calls to Action are aimed at achieving reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and Canada and dealing with the tragic legacy of the Indian residential schools.
The National Chief stated that moving forward requires confronting and conquering fundamental misconceptions about history, citing as an example the role universities can play in dismissing the “Doctrine of Discovery” which holds that Canada was “discovered” by European explorers: “I see as a particular priority the need for law schools to help advance the very large task of dismantling the influence of the doctrine of discovery. This racist doctrine does underlie many legal assumptions that still shape the common law of ‘aboriginal rights’ as well as government policies that are an obstacle to progress. It must be abandoned, denounced and its impacts addressed.”
National Chief Bellegarde spoke to the important role universities can play in ensuring First Nations people and teachings are welcomed and incorporated into the university system. He noted the University of Regina is creating an award for Indigenous students and Vancouver Island University has recently designated First Nations Elders as special faculty in recognition of the relevance of Indigenous knowledge across many disciplines.
“I am confident that your work and your commitment to that task can make a real difference towards ensuring education systems and academic institutions across this country are transformed to reflect Indigenous peoples, our cultures, languages, knowledge, perspectives and ideas,” National Chief Bellegarde told the conference participants. “We need your help in shaping the future of this country to meet the reconciliation challenge.”
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nation citizens in Canada. Follow AFN on Twitter @AFN_Comms, @AFN_Updates.