Response to Ministerial Statement: Recognizing the Solemn Responsibility of Caretaker Communities

Feb 22, 2023 | 42-4, Blog, Governance, Indigenous, Legislature, Statement, Video

With the announcement of more findings of likely burial sites at the Alberni Indian Residential School, and the similar announcement in January at the St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Hon. Murray Rankin, offered a Ministerial Statement about the role and responsibility of caretaker communities.

I offered a response on behalf of the Third Party.

My comments focus on the incredible burden that is carried by the leaders, our relatives, in the communities where there was a residential institution and Indian hospital.

I raise my hands to the powerful leadership they have shown in ensuring that our children are taken care of in a good way, and the challenge our leaders face in navigating the many cultures of the children who were forced to attend these institutions.

[Transcript]

I rise to respond to the ministerial statement on behalf of the Third Party.

I think it’s important just to start by acknowledging the incredible leadership that has been shown and that was shown that first time that we stood and spoke to this issue in a ministerial statement by Kúkpi7 Rosanne Casimir to Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, the incredible leadership that’s been displayed by Chief Willie Sellars from the Williams Lake First Nation and the incredible leadership that was shown this week by waamiiš,Chief Councillor Ken Watts — the chief councillor of Tseshaht.

The burden that our relatives carry in the communities where these residential institutions, so-called educational institutions, were located — it’s a big burden. As was noted yesterday in that presentation, the number of communities that our children were gathered from and brought to those schools…. The responsibility that the leadership, the elders, the families in those caretaker communities, as they’ve been called, is a very large one.

How do we address making sure that our ancestors, our relatives, have been taken care of in a good way, in a cultural way, but in a way of diverse cultures that we see in this province? There is no real just First Nation people. There is a wide variety, a wide diversity, of Indigenous peoples in this province.

The children were collected and brought to these locations as if they were all just some blanket Indigenous people. But the responsibility that those communities have now is to make sure that each of those diverse communities that those children came from, that may very well be in these sites, are looked after in a way that’s culturally appropriate and in a good way, as we talk about.

Today, I think, you know…. I’ve spoken to many ministerial statements now, following the findings, those shocking findings at Kamloops. I think, as I pointed out, not necessarily shocking for Indigenous people but for our society — it was quite a shocking experience for them.

The number of times that I’ve stood and spoken to ministerial statements about the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, days of action and the times that we pause to reflect on the impact that the colonial policies had on our mothers and grandmothers and on our aunties….

I spoke just earlier this week about the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the solemn reminder that that day will be for all Canadians. I really do feel that it’s important that we do continue to stand and talk and stand and tell stories and stand to listen.

But it also needs to be done in the frame that the stories that are shared are not easy to be shared. So it is important that every time that we ask for the stories to be shared, that we recognize the pain and suffering, the wounds that are reopened each time that we do have those stories and the discussions in this place and in the communities across the province.

[2:50 p.m.]
I want to just say that an unfortunate occurrence has been increasing in my legislative inbox. That is a really type of despicable questioning about the findings. I’m going to put a name to it here today, and I hope that we can put an end to what I’ve seen is an increase in this questioning, because our relatives in those communities are not going and aimlessly looking. They’re going because they to those places because they’ve been told that’s where they’re likely to find something.

The questioning that’s happening right now, this undercurrent that is starting to bubble in our society, needs to be put to an end now. This residential school and Indian hospital experience is real. As much as we’d like, and some would like in our society, to suggest that it’s not and to pretend that it’s not, it’s real.

They’re finding these disturbances in the ground because the children saw those places, and they knew where to point, and they knew where to highlight. So it’s important, I think, that we put a name to that and to call an end to it, because these experiences are painful and to have that questioning starting to bubble up in our society is unacceptable. We know that these exist. These stories are real.

We believe the words of the survivors are overwhelming, and the burden that’s carried by our leaders, Kúkpi7 Casimir, Chief Sellars, waamiiš Chief Watts, that’s real as well. When I reach out to talk, oftentimes I’m told: “I’m dealing with the very important work right now of what’s happening at the residential school site, and I need to go. I’ll talk to you about whatever the issue is, but I….” A lot of time is being spent, a lot of resources and effort are being expended, to do this work in a good way.

I think what you saw yesterday from the Tseshaht and our relatives in Port Alberni was that they are really taking this work very seriously, and they are showing a type of leadership that I think we haven’t seen in this country. I raise my hands to them. I want them to know that as they go about this work, that they have the support of this Legislative Assembly and that we will help carry some of the burden, as much as they’re willing to share with us, and to continue to encourage them and love them, because the job that they have right now in taking care of all of the families across Vancouver Island, but indeed across British Columbia, is a heavy burden. I want to acknowledge that and name it here today.

HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM

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