If there is to be true reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, it must “reflect and combine significant values from each side,” says former prime minister Joe Clark, who is an honorary witness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada.
Many non-indigenous Canadians have a “folkloric view of Indigenous people,” he told the 130 dinner guests in the Great Hall of Christ Church Anglican Cathedral in Ottawa November 4. It’s a view that “stigmatizes the values of Indigenous peoples as being just part of the past, not really relevant to the so-called modern world and certainly not a factor in the future,” he said.
There is a growing body of proof that “this backward-looking caricature is false, but that is not evident to many non-Indigenous Canadians of inherent generosity and goodwill,” he said.
Advocacy and public relations alone won’t persuade those Canadians who “through no ill intent, cling to the caricature,” said Clark. “They need to see for themselves that some Aboriginal values are central to their own well-being and to their future.”
Clark, in his talk entitled “Beyond Reconciliation: A new partnership with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada,” also called for a national council of reconciliation to be set up by the new Liberal government.
Now is a rare opportunity “to build that kind of strong, practical inclusive partnership which will let us move forward together,” he said.
“This a moment in time where, if we displayed the generosity of spirit that [Nelson] Mandela and [F.W.] de Klerk showed when they drew their nation [South Africa] back from the abyss, and displayed the inclusive vision…we can do it.”
Clark was speaking as a director of Canadians for a New Partnership (CFNP), which, according to its website, is working toward “a better, stronger Canada” that builds “a new partnership between First Peoples and all Canadians.”
Stephen Kakfwi, a former premier of the Northwest Territories, and president of the NWT Dene Nation, first advanced the concept for Canadians for a New Partnership.
Following his talk, Clark fielded questions from members of the audience, touching briefly on the Liberals’ election campaign. “There’s no way in the world that they could have anticipated, prior to the campaign, all of the changes that they want to take account of now,” he said. “And I think they would welcome constructive suggestions” on how to move forward on building a new partnership between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples.
Hosted by Cathedral Arts, a diocese of Ottawa program that holds benefit concerts and hosts a guest lecturer series, the event included a traditional Algonquin buffet prepared by an Aboriginal catering service.
The former prime minister was accompanied to the event by his wife, author and lawyer Maureen McTeer. It was noted in his introduction that Clark remains the youngest person to become prime minister of Canada, taking office the day before his 40th birthday. The new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is 43.