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UCW welcomes pioneers in truth and reconciliation in Canada

Phil Fontaine and Kathleen Mahoney on orange graphic with feathers

University Canada West was delighted to welcome two pioneers in truth and reconciliation in Canada to its Vancouver House Campus this week.

Phil Fontaine and Kathleen Mahoney were at UCW for a special presentation, Truth and Reconciliation in Canada – Direct from Kathleen Mahoney and Phil Fontaine, on Thursday, March 3. They joined UCW Interim President Sheldon Levy for a discussion about the treatment of Indigenous people in Canada. A recording of the event is available on UCW's YouTube channel.

Mr. Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Ms. Mahoney, a Professor of Law at the University of Calgary, are leaders in the movement towards truth and reconciliation in Canada.

“UCW could not ask for a better teacher than Phil Fontaine when it comes to listening, learning and advancing the principles of truth and reconciliation,” said President Levy.

Mr. Fontaine was born at the Sagkeeng First Nation, formerly known as Fort Alexander, in Manitoba.

In his youth, he attended a residential school operated by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Sagkeeng. He also attended the Assiniboia Residential School in Winnipeg and graduated from Powerview Collegiate in 1961.

In a 1991 interview with CBC, Mr. Fontaine discussed his time at the residential schools and how that played a crucial role later in his life. He went public with his story of abuse at the residential schools in 1990, garnering an apology from the Catholic Church in Manitoba.

Mr. Fontaine always had an interest in politics and was elected Chief of the Sagkeeng First Nation in 1973, serving two consecutive terms. After a break from politics, which saw him serve as a Regional Director General in the Yukon for the federal government and as a Special Advisor for the Southeast Resource Development Council, Mr. Fontaine was elected Manitoba’s Vice-Chief for the Assembly of First Nations. And was one of the Manitoba First Nations leaders that were instrumental in the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord.

He served an unprecedented three consecutive terms as Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in the 1990s. And in 1997, he was elected to his first of three terms as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Among his many accomplishments as the longest-serving National Chief, he will be most remembered for successfully negotiating the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which included financial compensation for survivors and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Mr. Fontaine is a Member of the Order of Manitoba and has received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Equitas Human Rights Education Award, the Distinguished Leadership Award from the University of Ottawa, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2012.

Professor Mahoney is an internationally recognized human rights expert. She was a member of the legal team that represented Bosnia Herzegovina in their genocide action against Serbia in the International Court of Justice, which resulted in the alteration of the definition of genocide in the Genocide Convention to include mass rapes and forced pregnancy as genocide offenses.

Here in Canada, she was the Chief Negotiator for the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement for the Assembly of First Nations, achieving the largest financial settlement in Canadian history for the mass human rights violations against the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

Professor Mahoney was also the primary architect of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and led the negotiations for the historic apology from the Canadian Parliament and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

Among her many awards and distinctions, Professor Mahoney is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Queen’s Counsel, a Trudeau Fellow, and a Fulbright and Human Rights Fellow (Harvard). She received the Governor General’s medal for her contribution to equality in Canada. She has held Visiting Professorships or Fellowships at Harvard University, The University of Chicago, Adelaide University, University of Western Australia, Griffiths University, the National University of Australia and Ulster University. She was recently appointed co-chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights Canadian.

Published on March 7, 2022.