Feature Article

Truth and Reconciliation: the CBRC and Indigenous Health

Written by Travis Salway & Todd Sakakibara

The stories and statistics shared through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) reveal a significant history of abuse, cultural genocide, and childhood mortality inflicted upon Indigenous people by white settlers. Between the 1870s and 1996, white Canadian settlers removed approximately 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and boarded them in ‘residential schools’ funded by the Canadian government and administered by Christian churches. TRC findings included stories of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. Six thousand of the boarded children (1 in 25) died. The effects of the residential school system and other Canadian colonialist and racist policies endure today. The TRC presents an opportunity for all of us to reflect on what can be done to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” (TRC, Calls to Action, 2015, p.1)

On November 9, 2016, the Community-Based Research Centre for Gay Men’s Health (CBRC) was honored to have Florence James, a Penelakut Tribes Coast Salish Elder, Rocky James and Kevin Barlow from the Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council (MVAEC), and Keane Tate from the Nisga’a Nation open the 12th Annual Gay Men’s Health Summit. Florence James shared with us some of her people’s history, her role as an elder, and her support of her Two-Spirit son Rocky. Rocky and Kevin then invited CBRC and the Summit attendees to participate in the reconciliation process. In Rocky’s words, we have the opportunity “to bring queer Indigenous people here [to the Summit] next year to see what we can offer them to improve their quality of life in the Metro Vancouver area.”

We are thankful to Rocky and Kevin, their elders, and their partners for coming to the Summit and inviting CBRC to work with them to learn how to make meaningful and collaborative changes in the lives of Indigenous people. CBRC endorses the recommendations of the TRC report and acknowledges that the current health disparities experienced by Indigenous people in Canada (e.g., elevated rates of suicide and HIV) are a direct result of the historic wrongs executed by the government, including residential schools. CBRC also recognizes that racism and the lasting influences of colonization infiltrate all parts of our society and institutions. This contributes to unequal opportunities and inequitable access to health for Indigenous people.

In response to the TRC “Calls to Action” (in particular those related to health), CBRC is therefore specifically and intentionally making a series of commitments in our work going forward:

  1. CBRC commits to contribute high quality, respectful, and relevant health data on gay, bi, two-spirit, queer, and trans Indigenous men through engagement, collaboration, and advocacy. (For example, providing Sex Now data on Indigenous two-spirit men.)
  2. CBRC will work to educate and provide skills-based training for those working in gay men’s health on Indigenous health and cultural safety at future Gay Men’s Health Summits.
  3. A CBRC representative will sit at the MVAEC Health and Wellness Roundtable.
  4. CBRC commits to returning to address these issues and facilitate discussions on an annual basis at the Summit.

We welcome your feedback on these commitments, at info@cbrc.net, and we invite you to join us in responding to the TRC. Below we’ve provided web-links, if you’d like to learn more.

Travis Salway, Todd Sakakibara, on behalf of the CBRC Board of Directors

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council

Where are the Children? Healing the Legacy of the Residential Schools

Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action

Unsettled: Queer Arts Festival presents Two-Spirit artists

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