Proof of a major shift in the general attitude towards First Nations people came Sunday, with some 70,000 people taking part in a truth and reconciliation walk, part of a series of events in B.C. set up by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The commission was set up following an historic apology by the federal government in 2008 to First Nations people who either attended residential schools, or suffered from the effects of that failed government policy. In other words, the apology was offered to almost every individual of First Nations ancestry in the country.
Residential schools were part of an overall federal government policy designed to integrate and assimilate native people into the Caucasian mainstream. Young natives were not allowed to speak their own languages and learn about their culture, and families were deliberately broken up.
These were done on the premise that native people and their culture, which stretched back for millennia, were of little worth when compared to European culture. At the same time, there was a strong element of greed within this policy, because the people of British and French ancestry who had settled Canada in the 1800s wanted most of the native land and resources for themselves.
Churches were used as the instruments of this policy, with church leaders believing this was an opportunity to turn First Nations people into European Christians who would have no interest in their own background or spiritual traditions.
Of course, as has been proven in countries all over the world, this policy was an abject failure. But even worse than that, it did lasting harm to the fundamental institution of the family in almost every native community. When coupled with the paternalistic welfare system that continues today under the outdated Indian Act, this policy has caused tremendous harm to generations of First Nations.
But many individuals, and some pioneering First Nations groups, are changing this negative into a positive. They are using their education, culture and skills to create more opportunities for themselves and their fellow native people.
All levels of government now know they must consider the effect on native people before undergoing any major economic or social initiative. First Nations people are now partners in Canadian society, as they always should have been.