#365indigenous: Murray Sinclair

Murray Sinclair’s Ojibway name Mizanay Gheezhik:  “The One Who Speaks of Pictures in the Sky.” He grew up  on the former St. Peter’s Indian Reserve in the Selkirk area north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

After being called to the bar in Manitoba in 1980, Sinclair worked to advance Aboriginal rights as a professor at the University of Manitoba, counsel for First Nations of Manitoba, and Manitoba Human Right Commission legal counsel. Senator Sinclair became the first Aboriginal judge in Manitoba in 1988, then was the first Indigenous person to be appointed as judge to  the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba.  That experience stood him in good stead when he became chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).  

At public and private hearings across the country, Sinclair documented staff and survivor statements to compile the final report. The report documented the history of residential schools in Canada, noting that the Government of Canada had legally mandated the forcible removal of children from their families and communities in order to remove them from the cultural influence of their parents, families and communities. A major finding of the report – that Canada established and maintained its forcible removal and residential school policy for the primary purpose of eliminating Aboriginal cultures and racial identity – led to its conclusion that Canada had committed “cultural” genocide.

The report contained 94 Calls to Action and called upon all parts of Canadian society to commit to reconciliation and to build a more respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Senator Sinclair told everyone very clearly, “Reconciliation is not an Indigenous problem. It is a Canadian one. We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the way to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.”

After the TRC completed its final report in 2015, Senator Sinclair was appointed to Canada’s Senate on April 2, 2016, where he sat on the Senate Standing Committees on Aboriginal/Indigenous Peoples, Fisheries and Oceans, Legal and Constitutional issues, Rules, and Ethics and Conflicts of Interest. He retired from the Senate on January 31, 2021.

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