Lessons from Canada: The Truth & Reconciliation Commission Report

Lessons from Canada: The Truth & Reconciliation Commission Report

December 15, 2015, is a watershed moment for the rights of the indigenous people of the world when a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) helped unveil the cultural genocide of the First Nations, Métis, Inuit and other indigenous Canadian people. This cultural genocide was committed between 1840’s and 1990’s vis-à-vis a systematic and coherent national policy, at the residential schools specifically set up for the children of the indigenous Canadians.


The report is critical of the founding fathers of Canada including its first ever Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, as well as the church for their role in this boarding schools macabre. The credit goes to Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, for accepting the recommendations of the TRC and for apologizing on behalf of Canada, and more significantly, for asking the Pope to apologize on behalf of the church for their part in the cultural genocide.

Cultural Genocide

The TRC helps break new ground by acknowledging the notion of a cultural genocide. This will potentially have far reaching consequences for the comity of nations, as previously the cultural invasion of the indigenous people was not considered a crime on par with the physical or biological genocide.

The report defines cultural genocide as ‘the destruction of those structures and practices that allow a group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages, spiritual practices, culture, customs and traditions are banned from being practiced by the affected group.’

Political Implications

This development has already stirred the hornet’s nest in some countries including USA, Australia and New Zealand that have previously refused to recognize the UN Declaration On the Rights Of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration). Passed in 2007, this UN Declaration seeks to affirm that all policies that advocate superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust. This charter also has major implications for countries facing secessionist movements within their settled borders including Catalonia, Kurdistan, Scotland, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Naxals and Circassians.

Despite Pakistan being a signatory to this UN Declaration, it’s ruling elite would also be averse to following it in letter and spirit, since upholding its commitments would be seen as giving impetus to the movements brewing in its own restive regions.


However, for the current fight against extremism vis-à-vis the National Action Plan to succeed (I have written about the recommendations for strengthening the implementation of the NAP here: http://courtingthelaw.com/2015/10/16/commentary/recommendations-of-youth-parliament-standing-committee-on-national-security-foreign-affairs/), the ideology of hate needs to be replaced with a counter-narrative that would celebrate and promote the indigenous culture of the Indus Civilization – cradle of inclusiveness, peace and tolerance.

A process of reconciliation with its past would be a good starting point and Pakistan would do well to incorporate the spirit of the following recommendations made in Canada’s TRC report:

  • make Aboriginal languages a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, with an urgency to preserve them.
  • repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.
  • make curriculum on residential schools, treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement to help build student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.
  • revise the policies, criteria, and practices of the National Program of Historical Commemoration to integrate Indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices into Canada’s national heritage and history.

A similar process could be initiated in Pakistan to help preserve and promote the languages of Bulleh Shah, Sachal Sarmast, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Mir Gul Khan Nasir and Khushal Khan Khattak by declaring Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtu, Balochi and other indigenous languages as National Languages. Whereas, Urdu can continue as the lingua franca (official language).

Another important policy prescription can include repudiating the concepts used for over riding the national interest over the indigenous culture and traditions that includes the creation of the One-Unit rule (1955-1970), which took away the identity of Pakistan’s indigenous people, by assimilating all the federating units into one Administrative unit called West Pakistan. Poet laureate Shaikh Ayaz described One-Unit as a period when, “Sindhi schools stopped teaching Sindhi and in the name of Pakistaniat and Musalmaniat people felt that their native ethnic identity was being taken away, reminiscent of the specter of what happened to the Red Indians.”

Moreover, by making the Hamood-ur-Rahman report on the Dhaka debacle public and by creating awareness about the circumstances surrounding the accessation of Balochistan to Pakistan, the nation can begin the process of healing by finding a closure to its troubled past.

This is also an unprecedented opportunity for helping initiate education reforms, as post 18th amendment the text boards have been placed under the jurisdiction of the provinces. The reforms can include giving knowledge about the historical contribution of the indigenous people including the sacrifices of Bhagat Singh, Hosh Mohammad Sheedi, Dr. Abdus Salam (Noble Prize Winner), Duleh Darya Khan, Bacha Khan and Fatima Jinnah (the biography of her brother, Quaid-e-Azam, written by Ms. Jinnah remains censored).

The establishment of national universities and educational institutions in the FATA, Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir would also go a long way in educating the people about the glorious history of their forefathers who contributed to the rich traditions of their land.

Moreover, the spiritual values of all the creeds that have evolved in the soil of the Indus including Sikhs, Parsis, Bohras, Hindus and others should be preserved and celebrated in accordance with the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruling on Article 20 of the constitution [freedom of belief] in Suo Motu Case no. 1/2014.

The National Action Plan can be also be made more effective by carrying out a thorough scrutiny of the curriculum taught at religious seminaries as well as at national schools and colleges, including cantonment schools, that seeks to distort the cultural identity of the region. This is pivotal since any attempt to distort the legacy of tolerance of the Indus Civilization would create a vacuum for extremist ideology.

Pakistan cannot afford the luxury of further delaying the process of healing, therefore, a national commission similar to the platform of European Memory and Conscience can be established to help highlight the historic injustices caused to its indigenous people, and for promoting their contributions to the rich heritage of the region.

This is important because too many Pakistani’s know too little about the deep historical roots of their soil. This lack of historical knowledge has serious consequences for the people, and for Pakistan as a whole. In government circles, it makes for poor public policy decisions. In the public realm, it reinforces racist attitudes and fuels civic distrust between people of smaller provinces and federation. Too many Pakistani’s still do not know the history of Baloch, Punjabi, Sindhi and Pakhtoon people’s contributions for the country. History plays an important role in reconciliation; Pakistan must look to, and learn from, the past in its fight against extremism. Lesson learned from Canada would be an important first step.


Asad Palijo

Author: Asad Palijo

The writer is a graduate from University College London, is an entrepreneur, and a Development Practitioner, who works with disadvantaged and marginalized communities. His interests include arts, culture, anthropology and international relations.
He tweets @jungshahi

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