PhD student Ferdouse Asefi’s op-ed ‘Empty words and promises are not a serious attempt at reconciliation’ in the Hamilton Spectator

PhD student Ferdouse Asefi recently wrote an op-ed, Empty words and promises are not a serious attempt at reconciliation, in the Hamilton Spectator. The article outlines the numerous failures by the federal Liberal government to keep their promises to achieve reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, as well as insufficient gestures towards reconciliation by Conservative party members.

From delaying the removal of all long-term boil-water advisories to postponing its promise to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Liberal party’s efforts for reconciliation seem insincere, merely symbolic and an effort that only serves those in power. Ferdouse adds that the Conservative Party is no better, offering little more than platitudes while its leader openly speaks out against UNDRIP and Indigenous-relations ministers from provinces under Conservative leadership call for further delay. Ferdouse suggests that the Canadian government continues to fail Indigenous peoples and provides little reason for the Canadian people to believe any promises will be kept.

Ferdouse is in his third year of the PhD program at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on identity, race relations, and settler colonialism in Canada and USA. Ferdouse explores how identity is contested and contestable among racialized groups, and in doing so, examines how identity is constructed through art, law, and discourses of the media. His research examines how the media and cultural products, such as art and photography, are used as tools for identity-based resistance.

Ferdouse is a junior fellow at the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto.  His PhD supervisors are Dr. Jennifer Adese and Dr. Jerry Flores.  His previous publications include “Indigenous peoples will continue to suffer under Liberal minority,” co-authored with Erick Laming (Toronto Star. December 4, 2019) and “If we truly want to rehabilitate incarcerated youth, we must stop putting them in solitary confinement,” co-authored with Cristina Tucciarone and Sebastian di Domenico (CBC News. April 30, 2018).

We’ve included an excerpt of the op-ed below. Read the full article at the Hamilton Spectator website here.

Empty words and promises are not a serious attempt at reconciliation

By Ferdouse Asefi

The Trudeau government was given a mandate in both its 2015 and 2019 election victories. It promised improvements for Indigenous peoples, but it continues to fall short.

Recently, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller admitted the government will not meet its promise of ending all boil-water advisories by March 2021, a goal announced in 2015. No new deadline has been set.

While Miller has noted the pandemic and climate change have created further delays meeting this promise, this excuse illustrates the short-sightedness and continued systemic discrimination perpetuated by the Liberal government.

The government is deserving of criticism for failing to keep promises to achieve reconciliation. NDP MP Charlie Angus noted, “this is another in a long, long, long list of broken promises to First Nation communities,” with federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh calling it “disgusting” and “inexcusable,” while Conservative MP Gary Vidal stated it a “national embarrassment.”

It is not just the government that is worthy of criticism, but also Conservative leaders, such as Erin O’Toole, who made comments to Ryerson Conservatives that residential schools were a tool to “provide education” to Indigenous children, but became “horrible.” While an example of revisionist-based history, it comes as no surprise and portrays typical attitudes of many Conservative leaders.

O’Toole, like his predecessors Scheer and Harper, offers nothing more than just platitudes while his office claims he is a “champion for reconciliation” and “takes the horrific history of residential schools very seriously.”

Yet, O’Toole contends reconciliation means “Indigenous participation in the economy to the fullest extent.” What about other colonial mandates? This call for action is like expropriating land as opposed to dealing with intergenerational trauma and the lasting effects of colonialism. It seems that this goal reflects the interests of the Conservatives and their Trans Mountain pipeline plans.

The federal Liberal government delayed its promise to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples within the first year of its new mandate. With the Liberal government recently introducing Bill C-15 to pass UNDRIP, following the footsteps of the provincial NDP government in 2019, how can this government’s goal of reconciliation be faithful when it initially postponed this promise due to the railway protests against the Coastal GasLink pipeline project? The government is only interested in pursuing its agenda when it is favourable for it.