Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: All The Truth We Need

Last year, around this time, I started to read the final report of the Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples.

I had been thinking about reading the report for some time because it is frequently cited in articles and books and is often characterised in terms that are almost reverential. Reading the entire report, I figured, would help me better understand my own place in Canada’s colonialism. The sheer size of the report was also somewhat compelling — a kind of Everest for the inquiring mind.

Having returned from its lofty summit, I’d say reading the entire report was useful for me, but I don’t think the journey will be of much use to most people. The official summary does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of the report and its key themes and should be sufficient reading for most readers. Although the nitty gritty of the final report is very valuable, the details are now somewhat dated and probably not that useful for the general reader, beyond reminding them of how little progress has been made since the report was delivered.

To be clear, there is a vast quantity of useful information in the report. If you have a particular interest in one of the topics covered, I would definitely recommend reading the relevant sections and recommendations. An online database of the research that informed the report also looks to be a treasure trove of resources (originally provided on CD-ROMs back in the day).

For the more ambitious general reader, in addition to the official summary, reading all of the report’s recommendations would be time well spent. Be warned: although the summary and the report are very readable, the recommendations are formally written and aren’t intended to be engaging. To say they make for dry reading is an understatement, but definitely worth the effort (and unexpected naps).

All in all, it took me about three months to read the report and another nine months to transcribe my notes and write a few remarks for this blog. It was definitely worth my time and energy, but I can’t say my takeaway from the experience is particularly positive. I suspect that characterisation will be true of any honest attempt to understand Canada’s colonialism. The report itself is an achievement; the fact that it was ignored — yet another national crime.

On the plus side, the very fact of the report itself unequivocally demonstrates that everything we need to know to recognise and correct the fundamental injustice upon which Canada was founded has been thoroughly and meticulously documented since at least the time of the report’s publication in 1996.

Admittedly, we probably knew all we needed to know well before this report was released, but the report has a place in the public record that no textbook, piece of theatre, white paper, novel or academic article can match. It also covers so much ground and is based on so much research and consultation that no Canadian — policy maker or otherwise — can plead ignorance in good faith or try to suggest that the implications of honouring our treaty obligations haven’t been well considered.

Many will, of course, but you can and should ridicule them, before pointing them to the final report of the Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples and the very many other official reports that have been added to the public record since. It is fair to say, I think, that we have all the truth we need. Instead, what we need now is action.

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