Progressing Toward Equity

As principles governing Canadian justice are founded on racist and white supremecist doctrines that bleed into contemporary society, it is crucial to revisit these documents. Pam Palmater, TMU’s Chair in Indigenous Governance, called on the Pope to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, stating “The Pope and Catholic Church must officially, fully and by whatever legal and religious means necessary, rescind, repeal, revoke, withdraw and publicly condemn genocidal #DoctrineOfDiscovery and take whatever actions necessary to make reparations for harms caused” (as cited in Smith 2022). Canadian musician and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie made a similar call during her Indigenous Peoples’ Day interview for Democracy Now in 2022.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Singer Buffy Sainte-Marie Calls for Repeal of Doctrine of Discovery YouTube (5min52sec)


On March 30, 2023, as this resource was in final revisions, the Vatican did issue a statement rescinding the Doctrine of Discovery. In this statement, Pope Francis condemns acts of violence and oppression committed against Indigenous peoples, while also admitting that “many Christians have committed evil acts against indigenous [sic] peoples.” He states that “The ‘doctrine of discovery’ is not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church” but that “these documents were manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers in order to justify immoral acts against indigenous [sic] peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities” (Joint Statement of the Dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human Development on the “Doctrine of Discovery”, 2023).

The Pope also acknowledges that recent dialogue with Indigenous peoples has allowed the Church to better understand Indigenous cultures, as well as how they have suffered both historically and currently in the name of Church and State. The Pope calls to “abandon the colonizing mentality” in favour of “mutual respect and dialogue, recognizing the rights and cultural values of all individuals and peoples” and states that “The Catholic Church, therefore, repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous [sic] peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political ‘doctrine of discovery’” (Joint Statement of the Dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human Development on the “Doctrine of Discovery” 2023). This statement seems like a good start; however, much work will need to be done by both the Church and various States to move toward meaningful reconciliation.

“There is a sacred responsibility in looking after our young people and working with our young people, our Elders tell us this.” (Monty Montgomery, Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Social Work, quoted in Hyslop, 2021, para. 27).


Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, filed a complaint against the federal government in 2007 for its failure to provide equitable and culturally appropriate child welfare services to children on reserves. The Canadian Human Rights Commission ruled in 2016 that the government’s failure to provide these services was discriminatory (Johnston 2016). Blackstock has also championed Jordan’s Principle, ensuring that Indigenous children can access the health and welfare services they require, in a timely manner, on reserve. The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society provides educational information about Indigenous matters, and also supports educational scholarships for Indigenous youth.

In June 2019, Bill C-92: An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families was passed by the Federal Government. Since January 2020, six Indigenous communities have passed child and family services laws with coordination agreements between Federal and provincial governments (CBC, 2023). Starting in the 1980s, Chief Wayne Christian of the Splatsin of the Secwepemc Nation in BC started to create an Indigenous on-reserve child welfare system. Progress has been slow and incremental, requiring sorting out requirements for child welfare, federal funding, hiring and training the right personnel, ensuring accurate community member data, developing culturally relevant programming, locating temporary caregivers, etc. In March 2023, Splatsin became one of the first to sign an agreement allowing the reservation to retain its children and child welfare on reserve, even repatriating some children who were in care off-reserve.

Established in 2019, The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking offers services and support to trafficking survivors through their hotline; however, given the high percentage of Indigenous victims of trafficking, they also have services specifically for Indigenous victims and survivors. In addition to supporting those who have been or are being trafficked, services include support for parents, as well as training for law enforcement to better recognize the signs that someone is being trafficked.

Various services exist to support restorative justice, including the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres’ Aboriginal Community Justice Program and Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto, as well as Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services in Northern Ontario.

Healing lodges provide safe spaces for Indigenous offenders to restore identity with the support of Elders and ceremony. In Toronto, Thunder Woman Healing Lodge offers support to women exiting the justice system. Currently located on Dundas St. E., they are in the process of building a new six-storey lodge on Kingston Road in Scarborough to offer housing to recently released Indigenous women.

Art and creative expression can also be used as tools to combat social and other injustices. Global Citizen published a list of ten Indigenous activist artists that includes singers, dancers, visual artists, and environmentalists (El Gharib, 2021). Kent Monkman is an award-winning visual artist who has exhibited around the world. His work often parodies European art styles, through an Indigenous lens. In Being Legendary, his 2022-23 show at the Royal Ontario Museum, Monkman took viewers on a journey from pre-colonial Indigenous communities, through the violence of colonization and residential schools, and into a brighter future through activism.

Dr. Megan Scribe, of the Yellowhead Institute at TMU, created Indigenous Girlhood: Narratives of Colonial Care in Law and Literature, a short animation based on her doctoral dissertation. Her work shows the power of conflating academe, art, and activism.

Indigenous Girlhood: Narratives of Colonial Care in Law and Literature YouTube (4min22sec)


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