It was a powerful morning in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia with first reading of Bill 41 (The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act).
This is the culmination of generations of work by Indigenous leaders to fundamentally change the relationship with the British Columbia government.
I will have the opportunity to speak more fully to the legislation at second reading and will publish that speech at that time. This morning I was honoured to respond on behalf of the BC Green Party to a Ministerial Statement delivered by Premier John Horgan.
HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM. ÍY SȻAĆEL SIÁM, ÍY SȻAĆEL.
Thank you to the leaders who have spoken before me, the Elders, Mr. Premier, Leader of the Official Opposition, relatives from Songhees and Esquimalt, our Lək̓ʷəŋin̓əŋ relatives — our S¸ELELW̱ÁÁN, who are curious about what’s going on in this building today, who have joined us and are witnessing this — the little voice that’s sitting behind me, the little baby that is going to only know a different world because of this.
My name is SȾHENEP. I’m a proud W̱SÁNEĆ from the W̱JOȽEȽP village. I’m the son of TSAYWESUT and Sylvia Olsen, the grandson of ZIȻOT and Ernie Olsen, and Don and Phyllis Snobelen.
I’m honoured to rise and add my voice to this beautiful day. Indeed, there have not been many days like this in the B.C. Legislature, or any Legislature in this country. Because few are the days when legislation has been introduced to uphold the basic human rights of Indigenous people. Our history is full of the opposite, full of examples of legislative institutions passing laws to structure and impose colonial reality on Indigenous peoples — laws that broke up Indigenous governments, took away our children, prevented us from voting, stopped us from hiring lawyers and protecting ourselves, imposed segregation upon us and implemented the reserve system.
Today we are taking concrete steps to undo that legacy. The implementation of the declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples was a priority of the B.C. Greens in the 2017 election. It’s a priority articulated in the confidence and supply agreement with the B.C. NDP government and a foundational piece of our relationship. Today is a day that generations upon generations of First Nations people in this province have fought to see happen.
From the Chiefs of the Interior tribes who petitioned the provincial and federal leaders in the early 20th century with a true message of reconciliation to the peoples on Vancouver Island, my S¸ELELW̱ÁÁN, my ancestors — who, when the Europeans began settling these lands in the 19th century, signed treaties with James Douglas to ensure that our rights were respected — to the waves of leaders who journeyed to Ottawa and Victoria and made the case and fought for change, and to the matriarchs and the elders, the young and the old, who’ have kept our cultures vibrant and beautiful and our languages alive, this is a day in honour of all of you, a testament to your resilience, your wisdom, your SĆÁ, your work.
As a kid of mixed heritage growing up on an Indian reserve, I’ve lived the dysfunction of the relationships between my parts. For many years, I wore this dysfunction on my face and on my body. It was always on my mind, and it broke my spirit. This dysfunction brought on confusion and depression.
The dysfunction of this place was my dysfunction — that is, until my late grandmother, Laura Olsen, saved my life when she instilled in me a duty and a sense of responsibility. She told me: “Grandson, you have a job to do.” She empowered me to build relationships. She inspired me to build bridges across my diverse heritage, and shortly after that, I began my life in public service.
So it is an honour, a deep honour, a humbling honour, to be standing here in this place at this spot today, to be right here, right now, at this moment, this momentous occasion. However, like the many steps on this path to reconciliation, this legislation does not result in greater justice overnight. This is the hard work ahead of us. But this bill puts us on a good heading, and the tides are in our favour.
But in order for us to get to our destination in a good way, we have to pay deep respect to the water and to the wind. We have to take our seat in that grand canoe and commit to paddling together, commit to pulling in the same direction. That is the work of every one of us in this place.
I thank everyone who has made this day happen, and I look forward to working with all the members of this place and the Indigenous leaders and their communities to ensure that we get to our good destination. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM. [Applause.]