The British Columbia government is making the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a statutory holiday.
It was recommended that governments created a day for truth and reconciliation which the federal government did two years ago.
In my second reading speech I outline the importance of this day as an opportunity to learn more about our history, honour the survivors of residential and day schools.
I call on the provincial government to create a fund to support community and regional efforts to host events to support increased opportunities for learning and remembering.
It’s an honour to be able to stand and speak to Bill 2, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Act, an act that is making the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation also a provincial day for truth and reconciliation, following through on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation No. 80, the report, to set aside a day for British Columbians and for Canadians to reflect on the true history of this country and of this province.
As many in this Legislative Assembly may remember, when it came to light — the findings in Kamloops, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory, the Kamloops Indian Residential School — I shared a story about my family’s history and relationship with these residential institutions — that Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to spend, in some cases, many years suffering all manner of abuse.
As a descendant of residential school survivors, indeed, someone who is a survivor of intergenerational trauma that was suffered by the terror that these institutions brought upon our families and our relatives, not just here in British Columbia, but right across the country.
I think that this is a very welcome and important act by this government to set aside a day for us to reflect on the impact that the true history of these Crown institutions — that this Crown institution that we stand in today, and the federal Crown — that they brought upon the Indigenous peoples of this country.
I want to say that truth and reconciliation is work for my relatives. It’s not easy. Every time, indeed, that we have this conversation, it brings back the feelings, it brings back the experiences right to the surface, and its work. It’s difficult. It’s necessary. But I think that it’s important to recognize that this September 30, the day that we are setting aside, initially known as Orange Shirt Day and then known as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation…. As we heard, the other day, Phyllis Webstad, who was the first to wear an orange shirt to school, say, she will always remember it as just Orange Shirt Day, but it now has another name.
Every time that we come to that day or come to that time, it takes effort to be able to have these conversations, to be able to share the truths with the broader community. This is not a day like May 24 weekend, this is not a day like July 1. It’s not a day of celebration. It’s a day of reflection. It’s a solemn day. It’s a day much more like November 11, Remembrance Day.
I’m just reflecting on my relationship with Remembrance Day. I don’t come from a family that had anybody in the military, like many people in this chamber and across the country don’t know, maybe, or come from families that had the residential school experience. But we set aside that day to participate in community events, to engage with those who have those experiences, to learn, to be better representatives, to be better friends and family, to be better community members, community leaders.
We work on that day. I think that it’s important to recognize that I don’t view it necessarily as work, but we’re there. We are engaged. I really encourage British Columbians and Canadians to not view this as a holiday. Because it’s a statutory holiday, we’ll fall into the language of calling it a holiday, but this is a day which, I think, requires some engagement and some effort to, maybe, set aside. It’s an opportunity to set aside what we would normally be doing, the work that we would normally be doing. Constituency work, in this case. The legislature rarely sits on September 30. We set that aside so that then we can be fully engaged in truth and reconciliation.
I think that’s an invitation, that if we’re going to ask survivors and their descendants to be talking about these horrific incidents that have been brought by these decisions and policies that were outlined in the Indian Act and in the history of this country, then we set aside the time and the effort to listen and to learn and to improve and to grow.
You know, I think I want to just acknowledge something that my mom reminds me often. That the experience that we’ve had in this province has grown over the last 170-plus years, and the efforts to reconcile and the efforts to move forward take time. I’ve been reading, as I mentioned yesterday, Jody Wilson-Raybould’s new book, True Reconciliation. It’s important that the opening of that, I think, to be repeated again…. A decade ago, we could say that we’ve made good progress, and now, ten years on, we should acknowledge that we’ve made even greater progress.
Is it perfect? No, absolutely not. This government, and every government, is going to hear me often talk about where I find the imperfections and the gaps in what we do. However, it is important and critical to acknowledge the distance we have travelled together, because it will encourage us to continue to walk the journey of reconciliation together. It’s important to acknowledge, just as Jody does in her book, that the pace at which we are moving is increasing exponentially, and I think that this is an acknowledgment of that.
I’d like to invite the government to really consider the budget that we have this spring. I’d put a private member’s bill on the table and spend some of that money, but I know that I’m not allowed to do that. So I’m going to encourage my colleagues across the way to really consider that surplus that we have and maybe set aside some of it in a fund, for perpetuity, so that communities can draw small grants.
This was an idea that was proposed in the press conference. It was a question that was asked. But I think that it should be considered that we set aside some of that surplus this year because we don’t know what we’re going to have in future years. We know that we’ve got this surplus to be spent. There are all sorts good programs that this government is going to want to invest in. I think this is one of them.
A companion to this would be to say: how is it that we ensure that this is a day of reflection and not like a holiday? Well, by encouraging and setting the tone early on, here in this speech and then the way we move forward.
Set aside some of that money in a fund so that, then, municipalities and community groups can draw just small grants to host events, to be able to pay in a good way, the handshakes that our Elders and those who are survivors would expect, in a cultural way, to come and share their stories, to be able to afford the blankets and the food that then often have to happen when we get together and have these events. We blanket people and protect them, and then we share a meal after because we are brothers and sisters and friends and neighbors, aunties and uncles and cousins.
The way that we can ensure that this doesn’t just become another day off, another day that we waste doing other things that’s not work, is if we really enshrine and establish a way for communities to not excuse themselves from doing the hard work of truth and reconciliation.
I really invite the government, at this time, to consider the opportunity that it has in front of it, in the short term, to make an investment in the long term of truth and reconciliation, because this is not a fleeting moment. This is, indeed, going to be a journey that we walk for a very long time.
I really raise my hands to the government. I raise my hands to all of the Indigenous leaders who have continued to advocate for this, for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for laying this idea out in front of governments to take up.
Most importantly, I raise my hands to the people like Eddy Charlie, who was with us just a couple of days ago, who is prepared and willing to consistently stand and share the horrors that he and his schoolmates experienced in those terrible institutions. And he’s just one. There are hundreds and there are thousands that have survived that experience. Many are no longer with us, but there are still many that are with us.
I think this is an opportunity now to be able to honour those stories in a good way, to learn from those experiences and to ensure that we’re building a society that never has that happen again.
We create for us a path that we see a lot more of that exponential growth towards a reconciled and a more truthful society that we live in, where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are working and living and playing together in a good way. Our ancestors, when they first welcomed those boats ashore, saw the opportunity that was associated with that, and initially, those relationships were good relationships, before it turned sour. I think that we need to learn that about our history as well.
With that, I raise my hands to the government for tabling this bill. I look forward to the other stages of debate. I think anybody that’s heard this speech will sense that I’m quite supportive of this initiative. I certainly hope that the government takes up the idea of putting in place an investment that can be benefiting communities over the long term, to ensure that we can really enshrine this day as a day of reflection — as a somber day to really do the important work of truth and reconciliation.