In the first session of the Fall 2021 sitting Premier John Horgan delivered a Ministerial Statement to commemorate the first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. I was honoured to respond on behalf of the BC Green Caucus.
It was important to recognize the history that has brought us to commemorating a new federal statutory holiday – the ugly history of Indian residential and day schools and Crown-Indigenous relations.
It is also important to reflect on where we stand today as we embark on this new journey of reconciliation together.
We are not as far down the road that perhaps we had hoped to be following the unanimous passing of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act nearly two years ago.
There is no indication on how much has been accomplished in implementing the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, nor was there much of a provincial investment to implement the Action Plan of the 231 Calls to Justice of the National Inquiry in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. When will the current Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation create a secretariat to coordinate the provincial governments reconciliation efforts as the Premier mandated him a year ago?
As has been said by many Indigenous leaders, truth must come before reconciliation. The truth is, we have a long way to go.
ÍY SC̸ÁĆEL. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM. Good day. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s good to see you all.
Last week we commemorated the first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day of reflection and healing. Today and every day I’m thinking of my relatives and all the survivors of Indian residential and day schools.
Before reconciliation must come truth. Here are some truths.
Six years ago, Truth and Reconciliation published 94 calls to action for all governments in Canada — the federal, provincial and territorial governments — to act on the horrific information that was gathered through an intense truth-telling exercise that finally forced Crown governments and politicians to listen to what Indigenous people had been telling for decades about the tragic, disgusting history of Indian residential and day schools.
It’s not just history, though. It’s how Crown governments relate to Indigenous people today as well.
For six years, action 80 languished, collecting dust on a shelf in federal, provincial and territorial offices, the action calling on those governments to create a “statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour survivors, their families and communities and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
On May 27, 2021, we learned more about the truth of Indian residential and day schools when Kúkwpi7 Rosanne Casimir, chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, shared that ground-penetrating radar had identified 215 remains of children that were sent to and never returned home from the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
After an overwhelming response from British Columbians and Canadians, after our true history was exposed once again for the whole world to see, it took our federal government only six days — what languished on the books for six years. They finally created that statutory holiday for September the 30th for each year.
Even then, our provincial and territorial governments were ill-prepared to respond, so on the first annual federal statutory holiday to commemorate the survivors and their families of Indian, residential and day schools, we saw, across the country, an uncoordinated, patchwork reaction that, frankly, tells a story unto itself.
If it were just action 80, that would be one thing, but unfortunately, it is not. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action names provincial governments 22 times, demanding our leadership take this work seriously. Commissioners call on our government to reduce the number of children in care, not just by changing how we account for children in care, but rather, actually changing our systems.
The commission calls on the provincial governments to reform education, health care and justice systems. Much of this might be done in British Columbia, but how much have we accomplished? What mechanism is holding government accountable to ensure that these reforms actually happen? The TRC asks that the provincial governments repudiate the doctrine of discovery and terra nullius, and to “reform those laws, government policies and litigation strategies that continue to rely on such concepts.” Has that been done yet? I don’t think so.
So what do we have? The provincial government arguing some Indigenous people don’t exist, and as a result, Indigenous people wasting precious resources establishing their basic existence. This is not just our past. This is what is happening in our province today, and in provinces across the country, and in our federal government.
Since the TRC’s calls to action were published, the final report of the national inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls was published, along with 231 calls to justice. The inquiry was charged with getting to the root causes of the violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The report stated clearly:
“The violence the national inquiry heard about amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, which especially targets women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human Indigenous rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death and suicide in Indigenous populations.”
Today is the National Day of Action for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs wrote in their media advisory announcing a vigil this evening at Vancouver City Hall, saying the following:
“Although the vigil today reminds us of the ongoing tragedies we must mourn, it also empowers us to proudly assert our identities, cultures and traditions, as we continue the fight for justice. We call upon Canada and British Columbia to take immediate, meaningful action to implement the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice that are focussed on replacing a justice model that perpetuates trauma with one that is aligned with Indigenous values, cultures and traditions.”
Indigenous leaders were deeply critical of the national action plan released earlier this summer. The UBCIC wrote in their response on June 3:
“This plan does not answer how to keep Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people safe, with no specific information about how, when and by whom concrete actions will be taken. Nowhere in this document do governments acknowledge and accept responsibility for laws, policies and practices that contribute to and perpetuate the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples, and specifically of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.”
British Columbia stepped up with $5.5 million worth of funding, a frustratingly small investment, especially when taken into consideration with the context of a provincial budget that is worth tens of billions of dollars. Throughout the last parliament, I worked closely with the former Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Scott Fraser, on these issues.
We all celebrated together, completing action 43 of the TRC calls to action “to fully adopt and implement the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation.” British Columbia was the first province to do so. This is an important step that this colonial institution takes towards reconciliation.
This past summer government released a draft action plan for the implementation of the commitments within that declaration act. These actions commit all cabinet ministers in our government to aligning their ministerial operations — the new laws they are creating, the old laws already on the books, the regulations, the policy — with the spirit of that declaration.
The declaration act was passed in November 2019. We are nearing the two-year anniversary of this act. Where do we stand today? Unfortunately, we are not as far down that road as I believed we had all hoped we would be on that celebratory autumn day when the Indigenous leaders of our province spoke right there at that Clerks’ table.
Following the election last year, the Premier mandated the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation to “create a dedicated secretariat by the end of 2021 to coordinate government’s reconciliation efforts and to ensure new legislation and policies are consistent with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.” We are getting close to the end of 2021, and I know that Indigenous leaders in British Columbia are eagerly anticipating the news of the creation of this secretariat as they continue to express the frustration of working with a government that has yet to coordinate these efforts.
As we heard from so many Indigenous leaders on September 30, truth must come before reconciliation. So we start with truth, and the next steps we take together will not be easy. As Hon. Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said, he recognized that getting to the truth was going to be hard, but getting to reconciliation was going to be even more difficult.
None of this criticism is going to be easy for any of us in this place or government officials to hear, but I can assure you that it is a fraction of the challenge that life has been for Indigenous people, for my family, for my ancestors and, indeed, all survivors of Indian residential and day schools.
Let’s not forget the words of Hon. Murray Sinclair: “We may not achieve reconciliation within my lifetime or within the lifetime of my children, but we will be able to achieve it if we all commit to working towards it properly. Part of that commitment is that this year, on September 30, we will stand together and we will say: never again. What we did in this country was wrong, and we will never allow it to happen again.”
I’m thankful that this work started last week, and I look forward to contributing to it in years to come.