In Question Period on Monday May 31, 2021 Premier John Horgan said “we have an obligation to release resources where we can, to improve people’s lives, and we’re committed to doing that. I know that the member opposite will hold us accountable for that. I look forward to it.”
On Tuesday I pressed this issue further by asking the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Hon. Murray Rankin, about what specific actions he has taken in the last few days to ensure all the resources are readily available to Indigenous people for healing.
In my supplemental question I pointed to the need to have this work be done as a Legislative Assembly. For years there has been a Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and the BC NDP have yet to mandate the committee to do any of the work collaboratively.
I have asked about this committee in the past and await the BC NDP to provide it a mandate.
Yesterday in my response to the ministerial statement about the Kamloops Residential School, I noted the impact that provincial and federal government policies to dispossess Indigenous people of their lands and resources. In my riding, the list is exhaustive. Victoria airport lands were taken as part of the war effort. The W̱SÁNEĆ were told those lands would be used for an airfield and returned following the war. Decades later, they’re engaged in a seemingly endless frustration with local authorities and the federal government.
James Island is another example of land that was dispossessed for the war effort with promises of return. Now a billionaire American owner has applied to subdivide the island, and an approving officer in the Ministry of Transportation must decide if that subdivision is in the public interest. Tsawout Chief Nick Claxton, the Islands Trust, Central Saanich have all stated that it not in the public interest. I can assure this chamber that it is most certainly not in the public interest.
In both these cases, Crown governments are all too happy to collect the wealth from the dispossession of Indigenous lands. But sharing that wealth, not so much.
To the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation: yesterday, I highlighted several ways that the provincial government could immediately act. If the answer is nothing, please just tell us. Because I heard minister Carolyn Bennett try to bafflegab her way through the Current interview this morning. It was very sad.
Minister, what specific and immediate actions have been taken since last Thursday? What resources has our government put in place to support our relatives, to confront and heal from the trauma that we’re all experiencing, and the retraumatization that this experience has caused?
Hon. M. Rankin:
I thank the member for Saanich North and the Islands and salute the eloquent statement that he made yesterday on this tragedy.
What specifically we are doing is what I believe Judith Sayers, the president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council called on us to do. She asked for us to seek financial, emotional, spiritual and educational support from the federal government and work with the First Nations and the churches and other interested groups to address this issue.
I’ve said from the outset that it’s important for our government to work in lockstep with the Indigenous nations concerned and follow their lead. Because in each part of the province, the response to this tragedy and the emotional upset that no doubt it has triggered will be something that each nation will express on its own.
So there is no simple answer to this. But we are committed to taking those steps and working with them. I have spoken with kúkpi7 Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc people specifically about that. I have spoken with other community leaders about that, and I intend tomorrow to be speaking with the First Nations Leadership Council. No doubt this issue will be front and centre. We stand ready to provide the resources of the provincial government, as requested.
Member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
Thank you to the minister for the response. Reconciling the injustices at the hands of Crown governments is not a partisan effort. We have seen no political party in this province has proven willing or able to do what’s expected or necessary. As long as we remain divided by these two sword lengths in our effort, our work will be fragmented, and it will be fragile.
Yesterday, the Premier boasted that his ministers, in his government, all have words in their mandate letters. Well, it’s necessary to remind the Premier that they are our ministers, and this is our government. As long as the Premier can stand here and try to take a victory lap when our relatives, our constituents — all the representatives here have constituents — are hurting like this, it should be evidence that the approach that’s being taken is flawed.
I was elected in 2017. I’ve been a member of the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs since then. British Columbians should know: that committee has never met. Never met. We have the power to require witnesses. To compel testimony. To interrogate. To dig. To recommend change. However, rather than truly work collaboratively, like we’re doing in the Police Act — and that is good work that’s happening in the Police Act — this government has chosen to keep this important work to themselves and behind closed doors.
As British Columbians can now see in plain sight, there’s a lot that this committee could have been and could be doing. To the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, when are you going to use this committee to invite all parties in this Legislature to the table, to truly contribute to the reconciliation effort that is the burden that every one of us in this House carries?
Hon. M. Rankin:
To the member, I believe that my record in serving in a non-partisan capacity in this regard speaks for itself. My door is open to any member who wishes to speak on issues of this importance, because the member is entirely accurate. This is not a partisan issue in any way, shape or form. Every single member in the legislature stood up and supported our commitment, our joint commitment to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which is a pathway, but only one step, along this important road to reconciliation.
I will work with any member who wishes to bring to my attention issues where we can work. I’m, of course, working closely with federal ministers and others responsible to make sure we can make lasting change in this province, as we deconstruct colonialism — the legacy of colonialism, which, of course, includes the cultural genocide, which is the legacy of residential schools. We have a lot of work to do together. But to the member’s point specifically, that work is non-partisan. I welcome the spirit in which his question was asked.