I responded on behalf of the BC Green Caucus to a Ministerial Statement delivered by Hon. Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, regarding the first provincial statutory holiday marking National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
A. Olsen: HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you to the members of this House for providing this space. Thank you to the minister and the previous speakers.
Saturday was the national and provincial Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Yesterday was the first provincial statutory holiday that gave us pause for reflection, commemoration and the uplifting of survivors of residential and day schools and Indian hospitals and to celebrate the beautiful diversity of Indigenous cultures that make British Columbia so unique — not just here in Canada and North America but globally. Nowhere else is there such a vibrant quilt of language and culture as we celebrate here in British Columbia.
As we have heard by many over the past few years that before reconciliation, first must come truth. The truth is that British Columbia — former minister, Scott Fraser, former Premier, John Horgan, members of all parts of this assembly — was the first parliament to pass the important work undertaken by the United Nations in the creation of the declaration on the rights of Indigenous, people. They, and we, should be acknowledged, and I do recognize the substantial political momentum that was needed and generated between 2017 and 2019 in order for this colonial institution to do right on behalf of Indigenous people.
It is a statement in and of itself, then, that it took a substantial amount of political momentum to do what is right on behalf of Indigenous people. We didn’t do that work easily. Seemingly nothing is done easily if it’s done on behalf of Indigenous people. The walls of this old building whisper, and I was not shocked by what I heard and some were saying in the wealth of truth and reconciliation. I was saddened to hear some of the racist tropes used by some members of this assembly before they were finally willing to stand and recognize the basic human rights of Indigenous people.
It appears, though, that even this government takes its victory laps showered with praise for the first to pass this law championing the Declaration Act. While in court, British Columbia continues to fight the way it long has. On one hand, British Columbia acknowledges the Council of the Haida Nation and creates a provincial holiday for National Day of Truth and Reconciliation and then contradicts that good work with some pretty low arguments in court.
For example, in the 2022 reference case to the Supreme Court of Canada on federal Bill C-92, British Columbia intervened to argue against provisions that would uphold the laws of Indigenous people regarding their children and families, even when those laws are in conflict with federal or provincial laws. British Columbia also argued it had the right to infringe the rights of Indigenous people regarding the care of their children. How is that upholding the inherent right to self-government?
Why is British Columbia still arguing to protect its role with respect to Indigenous children, given given all we know about the residential school system, about the urgent crisis of children in care. And then again, more recently, in the context of the challenge on the Mineral Tenure Act, British Columbia argued that the obligation it has under section 3 of the Declaration Act to align laws is not legally enforceable and that the court has no role to play. Once again, the Crown says to Indigenous people, “Trust us; we will do good by you,” while making sure that there is no legal form where British Columbia can be held accountable.
I imagine the members on the government side of this House, who care about how this institution deals with Indigenous people, members who care about human rights, the members who don’t want Indigenous Nations to continue to be impoverished for decades further by the racist Indian Act, constantly fundraising to defend our inherent and treaty rights, our interests…. I imagine those members are assured by the lawyers on the government benches who run out the legal narratives of why British Columbia must continue to fight this way in court. “We can’t stop nations from suing us,” they will say. While it is true Indigenous Nations sue the provincial government, it does not make it ethical for British Columbia to deliver arguments in court that undermine the Declaration Act.
With respect to children and families, this government will argue that we are the only province to argue that the inherent laws should be respected, while at the very same time arguing against upholding aspects of the authority of Indigenous governments. In my riding, this government flexed their domination of Indigenous people as they informed me and my relatives that their requests were to be ignored in the environmental assessment process and that the potential cumulative impacts of mining and our treaty rights will only be studied and understood after the mine expansion was approved. Even then, what is found will only be considered by decision-makers. And another ministry begins its consultation and engagement with one nation in the territory, ignoring the others.
The colonial games continue. Well-meaning government officials, recognizing that what they would like to do or what they believe they should do is not always aligned with what is pragmatic. Up north, this government has turned Indigenous communities and families against one another in an effort to protect their dominant position. They deliberately send mid-level bureaucrats with no authority to speak on behalf of government whose job is to delay, deflect and defer, leaving Indigenous leaders to defend themselves against the angry mob.
This is why we need space for Indigenous voices in this chamber that are free from the partisan grips and interests demonstrated by all political parties, free from the showers of applause and glory in the light while undermining and eroding in the darkness. Indigenous people need voices that are outside the political drama and able to hold this government and all future governments accountable for their promises. Our relatives need advocates in here that are willing to powerfully speak the truth against power and the decades of injustice.
I raise my hands to the elders and survivors who share their stories, their pain, their suffering, their trauma in plain view. I raise my hands to the thousands of British Columbians I saw wearing orange shirts this weekend. I raise my hands to those who organized and hosted events to reflect the tragic history of our province and country. I raise my hands to all the businesses and community organizations, the local governments who took pause from their work to invite local Indigenous people to share a few moments of learning. And I raise my hands to all our teachers, who are on the forefront of change, who have been working to elevate Orange Shirt Day, struggling without an adequate curriculum for years. Teachers are well ahead, and as a result, we have a new generation of British Columbians and Canadians who have finally been taught our true history, and I’m grateful to you.
As we pause for a moment like this to share truths, difficult truths, reconciliation comes when our government stops forcing Indigenous people to fight for every centimetre.