Is Canada finally ready to “Go in a Good Way?”

DAREarts First Roots Aboriginal Program Commentary – Cathy Elliott, DAREarts First Roots Aboriginal Program Associate
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When Right Honourable Justin Trudeau said, “Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways…” we all let out our collective breath. Indigenous Canadians, charities, artists and scientists suddenly felt the lid of containment lifted. The past few months of 2015 have breathtakingly altered the socio-political landscape, especially for First Nations, Metis and Inuit Peoples.

“Prime Minister Trudeau’s mandate letter signals a new era of reconciliation where First Nations are securing their rightful place upon a legitimate nationhood platform as Indigenous governments – this is certainly a positive step forward for this country. Truly, we are adversaries no more!” – Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day

As we move into the season of reflection, renewal and hope, it’s good to remember how the past three months have demonstrated the power that people possess: to give, to listen, to change the things they didn’t want. We are now sorting through the information that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has dispensed and taking up the recommendations that will, in time, help rectify the mistakes of the past. Indeed, it will take time, “even generations.” At the TRC announcement, an emotional Prime Minister stated: “I am announcing that we will work with leaders of First Nations, Métis Nation, Inuit, provinces and territories, parties to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, and other key partners, to design a national engagement strategy for developing and implementing a national reconciliation framework, informed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations.” See more at: Prime Minister’s Statement at the release of the TRC Final Report

All of the recommendations by the TRC will be implemented.

DAREarts Board Member and Atlantic / Labrador Regional Aboriginal First Nations (AFN) Chief Morley Googoo was present at the AFN Special Chief Assembly in Gatineau, Quebec. It was the first time a Prime Minister addressed an AFN National Assembly.

The education/opportunity gap will be closed. Presently, First Nations school children receive half the funding that the rest of Canada’s children receive. Trudeau announced that “[a] priority moving forward will be to make significant investments in First Nations education. We will deliver increased funding for First Nations education and we will work on education reforms for First Nations children that are led by First Nations.”

All funds that were seized by the previous government through the First Nations Transparency Act will be returned to First Nations, giving them the resources they need for infrastructure. Trudeau continued. “It is time for a new fiscal relationship with First Nations that gives these communities sufficient, predictable, and sustained funding.” See more at: Prime Minister of Canada’s Statement at the AFN Special Chief’s Assembly

Treaties will be re-addressed and Nation-to-Nation negotiations will resume. The past will be revealed in our schools, churches, town halls and media outlets. There will be no more room for racism in our classrooms and courtrooms.

There will, at last, be sunny ways. But not without weathering more hardship.

It’s great to have hope, but the reality is that things are still dire for our First Nations youth. The education/funding/opportunity gap will finally be closed, but it will take time. New schools will not suddenly sprout like fiddleheads next spring.

What are we doing? DAREarts is leading the way, and has been for two decades now. We’ve always been inclusive, we’ve always been consultative, we have always been learning, and we still are.

Some new partnerships will be working their way into the next year for DAREarts.

At the Rotary Club of Toronto’s meeting with the Assembly of First Nations, DAREarts (represented by Founder, Marilyn Field, Lead Teacher, Laura Mackinnon and DAREarts First Roots Aboriginal Program Associate, Cathy Elliott) witnessed a true willingness by all parties to start navigating this new landscape.  With more resources, sharing of information, funding and decolonizing of schools, we will inch our way towards the Canada we want to see.  A frank discussion about what needs to be done on both sides of the table followed the formal speeches.  Questions were asked about laying down bridges for business opportunities, education, infrastructure, the environment and decolonizing ourselves.

Augmenting DAREarts’ own efforts to answer the call for our programs, (we’re a small but mighty charitable organization with many Indigenous and like-minded artists who work with us across Canada) we have been conversing with other arts and education groups to ensure that there is a more effective way to share resources, employ local Indigenous artists, and empower the children.

The Rotary Clubs are looking for ways to connect us with their own HIP program (Honouring Indigenous Peoples), an earnest and robust effort to bring awareness to their own members and help organizations like DAREarts ignite positive change in children and their communities.

Over the past nine years, a lot of good groups have fallen away, due to lack of financial support, leaving a vacuum in communities with little means to take up the slack.   Now, artists and organizations such as Artbridges are pooling information and support.  Hopefully, in the future, we won’t have to compete with each other for resources.  But immediate measures are needed to reach the demand that exists NOW.

It’s good to remember that it is the kids who are going to keep this ball rolling. School children all over Canada are becoming aware of our checkered past.  School boards are altering their curriculum.  More and more FNMI children are self-identifying, becoming proud of their heritage, and more and more Canadians are becoming aware that we’re not all gone. The dream of a united nation based on the three founding parties—British, French and Indigenous Nations—just may be realized in our 150th year as Canada.


DAREarts is a children’s charity that uses the arts to empower youth at-risk to become leaders. Our lead supporters are Northbridge Insurance, Guy CarpenterScotiabank, and the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the government of Ontario.

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