Why Action Matters When It Comes to Reconciliation An Interview with Indigenous Rights Scholar Dr. Jeffrey Ansloos

Why Action Matters When It Comes to Reconciliation

An Interview with Indigenous Rights Scholar Dr. Jeffrey Ansloos

The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) helped put a spotlight on the ugly history and legacy of Canada’s Indian residential school system. Created out of the Indian residential schools settlement agreement, the TRC published multiple reports on the residential school system that included the harrowing experiences of survivors and their communities. The TRC also provided Canadians with a path towards reconciliation in its 94 calls to action.

For Dr. Jeffrey Ansloos, truth and reconciliation is a very personal matter. Jeffrey is a leading scholar in the areas of Indigenous rights, mental health, and social policy and writes frequently on the subject of truth and reconciliation. He currently serves as an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

The College is very pleased to have Jeffrey as the keynote speaker for our 2019 Annual Meeting and Education Day (AMED). We recently interviewed him to gather his thoughts on the TRC, truth and reconciliation, and his upcoming AMED presentation.

Q: We’re very eager to hear your keynote presentation. Can you tell us what you hope to address in your keynote?

The purpose of the presentation is to consider how the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers might take up the calls to action for reconciliation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and more specifically to think about how practitioners can integrate and apply their knowledge in those calls to action.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background? What led to your interest in the subject of truth and reconciliation?

It’s really personal for me. My grandmother and mother are survivors of the Indian residential school system and the 1960s Scoop. I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, an urban centre that has one of the largest and fastest growing Indigenous populations in the world. Growing up, my parents were actively engaged in our community.

I want something better for our young people. I think we need to create spaces for them that are conducive to their thriving and joy, and their possibility and potentiality. In order to get there, we need to continue the work of making a path that’s safer for them, kinder to them, championing of them and inspiring for them. That’s what got me here and that is what will keep me here.

Key facts about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

  • Created out of the Indian residential schools settlement agreement, which was the largest class action settlement in Canadian history.
  • Conducted research on the history and legacy of the Indian residential school system, which included outreach to thousands of survivors and other individuals.
  • Released a list of 94 recommendations or “calls to action” to move Canada on a path towards reconciliation.
  • Released its final report in December 2015, which included harrowing stories of abuse.

Q: What do you consider the major challenges associated with the TRC and reconciliation?

The challenges are many. By and large, the public is not well educated on the historical and current experiences of Indigenous peoples, in particular with relation to the colonial systems which have been imposed on Indigenous nations. I think we at times lack the broad social and political will to make the necessary changes that are needed at high levels and also in everyday interactions. Indigenous people continue to be marginalized, especially in ways where change is most needed.

Indigenous communities, I believe, hold much of the knowledge that is needed to heal and champion the changes needed in our society, but if Indigenous peoples aren’t at the table shaping policies and practices, there’s not going to be substantive change.

Q: What do you see as some of the professional responsibilities of social workers and social service workers when it comes to responding to the TRC’s calls to action?

Social workers and social service workers are so critically important, in part because they are directly implicated in the calls to action in a number of different areas, including child, youth and family welfare and services. The calls to action should have a very personal and professional relevance for the College.

Social workers and social service workers need to be educated on the history and contemporary function of colonial systems as they impact Indigenous children, families and communities.

I see there being a responsibility for developing an ethically reflective practice, in relationship with Indigenous community partners. I see there being a responsibility to train and create space for new Indigenous leaders within social work and social service work contexts, which will likely lead to new articulations of this field of practice. I see there being a responsibility to repair fractured relationships with Indigenous communities — particularly at the sites of child welfare where social work and social service work have had such a tremendous impact on Indigenous communities — and to think about what it means to rebuild trust and act on it.

I think there’s also a responsibility for practitioners to be public advocates for the rights of Indigenous peoples, which are guaranteed both within our constitution and within international law.

Q: We’re interested to learn how you moved from community work to social policy. Can you tell us about your career path towards social policy?

I began my work in mental health as a youth worker. The more I became engaged with mental issues within the Indigenous community, the more apparent it became that some of the barriers and challenges we were facing didn’t rest in individual people. They were about the social, political, and environmental contexts that we were finding ourselves in. This made it necessary to meet and build relationships with people who were working in policy and governance. The more I developed those relationships, the more I realized how to make links between what we were seeing in applied practice contexts to informing policies and practices at a larger level and in broader systems.

The work that I’ve done clinically and in community settings has helped inform my work in social policy. At a certain point, professionals who have direct responsibilities with communities need to advocate in contexts of social policy. Sometimes the doors are open for you, but other times you have to knock really hard, or just walk inside, start talking and make space for the people you serve.

Q: Are you optimistic about the future with respect to truth and reconciliation?

I am at my core both pragmatic and imaginative. I’m pragmatic about the fact that sometimes taking action is hard and will take time, but I’m inspired by the way Indigenous children, youth and families talk about their futures — when they feel cared for, when they feel heard, they utter dreams and hopes that are exciting and speak to their brilliance.

Idealists help get people moving. However, we need action that is sustained and not because it’s the flavour of the decade, month or election cycle. We need sustained commitments. All Canadians, regardless of their political perspectives, need to come together and agree that Indigenous peoples’ lives matter and we therefore deserve the same basic human rights as every other person in this country.

The College would like to thank Dr. Jeffrey Ansloos for granting us this interview.

Please visit the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website if you wish to view the reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Additional Resources

We are pleased to provide you with the following resources referenced by Dr. Jeffrey Ansloos during his keynote address at the College’s 2019 Annual Meeting and Education Day: