In recognition of his contributions to working with Aboriginal communities from across Canada through his charitable organization, Gathering Nations Together (GNT), Kenny Blacksmith has been appointed to the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF).
The CRRF originated out of an agreement between the Canadian government and the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) when the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement was signed in 1988. The agreement acknowledged the violation of human rights perpetrated by the federal government during World War II by acts, such as placing the Japanese within Canada into internment camps. Part of the agreement stipulated that Ottawa must create an organization to deal with race relations to “foster racial harmony and cross-cultural understanding and help to eliminate racism.”
The NAJC negotiated a contribution of $12 million on behalf of its community, and had the government provide an additional $12 million to match the funds thereby creating a $24-million endowment fund to start the CRRF. Since that time the CRRF has become a Crown Corporation that has fought racism across Canada.
Blacksmith said his appointment came about while he was traveling across the country to lay down the groundwork for this own special project called the Journey to Freedom that he is setting up via his charitable organization. Blacksmith explained the goal of the Journey is to bring Indigenous peoples from across Canada together and to start healing the suffering caused by the residential school system. This event will lead to another one in June to discuss whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper is deserving of the “forgiveness” he asked for during the residential school apology in 2008.
“Gathering Nations International is a charitable organization that my wife and I founded for reconciliation healing and unity issues across our nation. I guess people are starting to recognize that at the heart and spirit of what we are doing is not just First Nation but it is in addressing some of the external and internal racism that we all face across our nation,” said Blacksmith.
On March 19, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney appointed Blacksmith by Privy Council to the board of the CRRF.
Blacksmith said he felt privileged and honoured to have been appointed to sit on this board as a First Nations individual, since he is one of the first to ever hold such a position. The idea of being able to promote an organization whose core goal is to foster harmonious relationships and address racism in such a context was something he said was very dear to him.
“Racism has always been one of the background issues that we have to deal with. This is how the Indian Residential School program was founded and established in Canada. It was to kill the Indian in the child. It was to destroy and assimilate our people. It was to do away with the Indian problem. The whole assimilation policy is a racist policy and now we are going to address the racism on many fronts, not just from within our own First Nations communities,” said Blacksmith.
Blacksmith said his role with the CRRF will be very specific. He will be spearheading a First Nations advocacy group within the organization to ensure that First Nations have a proper place in overall issues within Canada. He said that in his mind, this means First Nations will have an opportunity to see beyond the reservation walls to recognize that the issue is so much larger and more involved.
Part of Blacksmith’s personal mission with the CRRF, as well as his own organizations and community, is to help First Nations individuals move beyond the past and no longer be so reactionary to it.
In speaking with The Nation, Blacksmith also wanted to extend an invitation to the entire Cree Nation to the National Forgiveness Summit, a GNT-sponsored event to be held in Ottawa from June 11-13.
“Let’s turn the page,” said Blacksmith. “Let’s not get stuck by a negative past. Let’s move on. Those who are ready to respond to Harper’s apology and his specific request for forgiveness, let’s do this as Crees and let’s respond as individuals. Let us come together in Ottawa and say, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, you have asked for our forgiveness. Whether we are ready to forgive or move on, it does not mean that the past becomes whitewashed or that it is forgotten. What we do know is that in the journey to our healing, reaching forgiveness is going to be key,’” said Blacksmith.