Closing the social and economic gap is a linchpin in reconciliation between aboriginal people and the rest of Canada, AFN Grand Chief Perry Bellgarde said Monday on the eve of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission releasing its final report.
"I urge everybody across Canada to rid themselves of things like the misconceptions about indigenous peoples, the discriminatory, racist attitudes that may exist, to move them out so that new things may come in," Bellgarde said at a news conference in Ottawa.
"We do have a shared history, and we do have a shared responsibility going forward."
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A march in Ottawa on Sunday drew thousands of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, drawing attention to this week's conclusion of the six-year-long Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which will release its final report and recommendations on Tuesday after hearing testimony from 7,000 former students of residential schools.
The march was "a very powerful testament about what we can do when we start working together to bring about change in this country," Bellgarde said.
What reconciliation requires
Reconciliation requires that the truth to be told about residential schools and their devastating inter-generational social fallout, Bellegarde added.
Residential schools were "a dark chapter in Canadian history. It is cultural genocide. Recognizing this should frame future aboriginal policy," he said.
Further, Bellegarde said treaty and aboriginal rights should be a part of school curriculums from kindergarten through Grade 12 across Canada. But resuscitating the country's 58 aboriginal languages should be a priority, he said.
"If there can be just as much effort to enhance, preserve and promote indigenous languages as there was to get rid of them that would really be reconciliation," Bellgarde said.
Reconciliation can't proceed while First Nations are mired in the "poverty that plagues our people," he said.
According to Bellgarde, one in four First Nations children live in poverty, 120 First Nations communities are under boil water advisories and only 35 per cent of aboriginal students graduate.
"When we close the gap that's good for everybody. When you invest in education and proper housing that's good for everybody," he said.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was struck in 2009, to study the legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada.
In the past six years, the commissioners interviewed more than 7,000 people across the country. The final report, which will be released Tuesday, will span six volumes and more than two million words.