Talking reconciliation with former AFN chief

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The Father of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is in the city tonight to bring up his message of hope with local audiences.

Former Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine is set to make his appearance at the Star of the North Retreat Centre with an event that is part presentation, part conversation on the topic of Breaking New Ground: The Meaning of Reconciliation. It is meant as a dialogue inspired by the TRC’s 94 calls to action.

By his reckoning, these conversations have been pretty lively everywhere he goes and their importance just continues to grow.

“So much has been said and talked about regarding reconciliation,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious that there isn’t just one definition. It’s a complex issue. It’s been described as a journey. I think Justice Murray Sinclair said that it’s going to take us years to achieve true reconciliation.”

“It’s been really encouraging. I’ve been impressed with how positive the conversations and discussions have been though I must admit that people also view this notion of reconciliation and the process and all of the steps that have to be taken in pretty realistic terms. They recognize that it’s not something easily achieved and it’s going to require an effort of all. It certainly has to be a collective undertaking. The commitment that will bring this about must be collective commitment. It can’t be left to one person or one organization or one church or one denomination. It’s going to require the commitment and support from every corner of the country.”

Fontaine is one of the foremost speakers on the subject. He served as the National Chief of the AFN for three terms, the longest of any chief. While the leader of the national political organization modelled after the United Nations’ General Assembly, he negotiated both the Kelowna Accord and the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, not to mention being one of the main collaborators to start up the TRC.

His speaking engagements have been very encouraging, he said.

“I’ve also been quite anxious about a number of challenges that we face as a country. There isn’t a more pressing issue in my view than First Nations poverty. It’s actually quite worrisome that we have such poverty in a country as rich as this country is. There’s no reason for that to be the case.”

What’s foremost in his mind in convincing the government to recognize Indigenous Peoples as included in the founding nations of Canada.

“We shouldn’t restrict that notion to the French and the English. That would be simply not true when we consider Canada’s history. It would certainly make our efforts that much easier if we were to correct this distortion of Canadian history, this lie that’s been imposed on Canadians that Canada was founded by the French and English, absent of Indigenous peoples. It’s simply not true.”

He described that it would be the “ultimate expression” of reconciliation, along with the eradication of mass poverty in First Nations communities.

The event runs from 7 to 9 p.m. tonight. Pre-registration is requested with a suggested donation of $10. The Star of the North is located to the east of St. Albert Parish at 3A St. Vital Ave. Call 780-459-5511 or visit www.starofthenorth.ca for more information.

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Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.