Native academic Bob Watts aims for a true reconciliation


The former CEO of the Assembly of First Nations, Bob Watts, says he doesn’t think the federal government and other organizations are doing enough to educate their workforces about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Watts played a key role in the creation of the commission, which is trying to determine the truth of what happened to 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children who were sent to residential schools.

“In spite of the federal cutbacks, there are still hundreds of thousands of federal public servants,” Watts told the Straight by phone. “What sort of updates are the federal government, which is one of the signatories to the settlement agreement…giving to all of its employees? None that I’ve heard of.”

Watts, who teaches at Queen’s University, said the same is true with churches. Several of them along with the federal government signed an agreement with First Nations to end the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history.

“I think some of those institutions that are signatories to the settlement agreement, they could be doing more,” Watts said, quickly adding that he has met many “wonderful church leaders” who have allocated time to educating people in their communities about residential schools. “But what’s being done on the ground, getting people out, so they can engage with aboriginal people on some of these issues?”

He also expressed concerns that not enough is being done by institutions or society on how the country can come together and work with the commission to help it succeed and bring about reconciliation between First Nations and the rest of society.

“We need to expose the beauty of its work to all of us,” he added. “We have to figure out how to coordinate ourselves better as a country. And it’s not too late. In spite a lot of the things that are going on in the country that could make people wring their hands or give up, I’m very hopeful. I’m an eternal optimist. I’m hopeful that things are going to get better.”

Watts will deliver the 2012 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture at 7 p.m. on Thursday (November 1) at the First Nations Longhouse on the UBC Point Grey campus. Tickets are free and available at 604-822-1444. The event is sponsored by the Laurier Institution, UBC Continuing Studies, and CBC.

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Nancy Peters
Kairos is also trying to nurture understanding between aboriginal and non aboriginal people through their annual Covenant Chain Link events, I, II and III.
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