Reconciliation Barometer project highlights progress made and work left to do

The Canadian Reconciliation Barometer, which hopes to give Canadians a better understanding of what progress has been made towards reconciliation with Indigenous people, has released its first report.

Indigenous people experience Canada in a 'fundamentally different way,' report says

The Canadian Reconciliation Barometer Project found that six out of 10 non-Indigenous people acknowledge that residential schools caused long-term harm. Elkhorn Residential School, pictured here, shut down in 1949. The building was demolished in 1951. (Manitoba Historical Society)

A new report by the Canadian Reconciliation Barometer project measuring the progress of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada highlighted areas of agreement between the two groups, and showed there is still much work to be done.

The report, released Tuesday, suggests Indigenous people experience Canada "in a fundamentally different way than mainstream Canadians," said Ry Moran, a co-investigator.

"We still have a lot of work to do to build trust, to build fairness and justice and equity across sectors and institutions," said Moran, who is also the associate university librarian (reconciliation) at the University of Victoria.

The first report of the Canadian Reconciliation Barometer summarizes responses from 1,119 Indigenous and 2,106 non-Indigenous people in Canada from different walks of life, and five different regions. 

The survey focused on 13 indicators of reconciliation, including good understanding of the past and present, acknowledgement of ongoing harm, respectful relationships and systemic equality.

Ry Moran is co-investigator for the Canadian Reconciliation Barometer project, and the Associate University Librarian (Reconciliation) at the University of Victoria. (Nardella Photography Inc./University of Victoria)

Survey results suggest while six out of 10 non-Indigenous people acknowledge that residential schools caused long-term harm, there is a gap in understanding how the harms of the past impact Indigenous people today. 

Other takeaways from the report include that there is not enough progress toward equality in personal outcomes, and that Indigenous cultures are not thriving in the present day.

The survey also found that Indigenous people do not believe the groups who harmed them — like churches and the government — have shown remorse, offered sincere apologies or accepted responsibility. 

Modelled after similar projects

Researchers from the University of Manitoba, University of Victoria and the University of Winnipeg modelled the project to be similar to South Africa and Australia's reconciliation barometer projects. 

"What [their] data shows … is that reconciliation is not a straight line, and it's not a guarantee. And that through measurement, hopefully those that are paying attention can begin to signal that we need to be on the lookout for perhaps regressive actions or even actions that will reflect hardening social attitudes," Moran explained.

(Canadian Reconciliation Barometer/Probe Research Inc.)

"Across indicators of reconciliation, Indigenous and non-Indigenous respondents agreed more than they disagreed," the report said.

Both groups are in agreement that Indigenous people are not fairly represented as leaders and decision-makers in key sectors. This portion of the survey yielded the smallest gap in understanding between the groups. 

"We agree that inequality exists. So if that's the case, then we really have to be asking ourselves: what are the barriers preventing us from addressing that inequality? Why are we continuing to live with this intolerable situation?" Moran said.

Overwhelmingly, Indigenous people are proud to be Indigenous, the report revealed, which principal investigator Katherine Starzyk says is a significant bright spot.

Grace Schedler is the Indigenous Ambassador for the non-profit Circles for Reconciliation, which focuses on relationship-building between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

She's from Gods Lake Narrows, but currently lives in Stonewall, Man. 

She recalls how 15 years ago, she would hear loud, racist remarks being made at local coffee shops in town.

"Now it's different. People actually … come up and ask about something if they want to know, because they're curious or they're interested. And it's a good thing. I don't mind answering them," Schedler said. 

Having both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people connect and share stories is key to advancing reconciliation, she says.

"When you hear something on the news, you go, 'yeah, that's interesting.' But when you experience it, and you feel it and you see it, it brings an even deeper understanding of what happened," Schedler said.

What comes next

Starzyk wants to ensure that her research team's work impacts policy changes that will move reconciliation forward.

"There are real issues around the way that certain sectors are recruited and trained, so there needs to be more of an understanding of the history and the ongoing issues, as well as training within sectors like health care, criminal justice, child welfare," Starzyk said.

"We hope that through highlighting where we are, we can motivate the people that can make change to think about doing more."