Mr. Speaker, in the 1973-74 school year, when she was six years old and went to St. Joseph Mission residential school for the first time, a young Phyllis wore a beautiful orange shirt her grandmother had just bought her.
Just imagine being five or six years old and getting a present from your grandmother, and think about what a special gift that would be.
As soon as she got to the residential school, officials there stripped off her clothes and took away her orange shirt, and she never saw it again.
That should be enough to spur us to action to try to repair the damage caused, as is our ultimate duty. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories like that of young Phyllis. Thousands of children like Phyllis had everything taken away from them—the light that was inside them, the peace and love they had once enjoyed, the great and noble values of their nation that already defined who they were, the comfort provided by their families.
That is what hurts the most: when everything that comforts us and defines us is lost. These victims and their families endured immense, terrible grief. This huge void will remain if we do not find a way to help heal the memories of first nations peoples,
Often the best way to fill such a void is to draw on the teachings of our elders. From my grandfather, I have kept the memory of an expression that has always stayed with me and, believe it or not, is directly related to Bill .
On this particular Friday, where there seems to be unanimity, I will share the origin of this expression. My grandfather Bouchard had his rituals. A 90-year old proud retired seaman and farmer, he spent his afternoons sitting on his rocking chair on the porch of his home on Chemin des Coudriers. Every day after his midday prayers he would be joined by his old friend and best audience who was nicknamed, and I am not joking, “Canada”. Grand-papa would tell legendary stories of treacherous winter crossings in an ice canoe, his anecdotes about horses chomping at the bit and his tall tales of the water's edge. He had an endless supply of these stories to the great delight of tourists who would greet him with, “Hello. Your stories are great. We do not often hear stories told that way these days. Can we record you?”
So many people would gather around the porch that sometimes there would be a bottleneck in the street. One day a tall, tanned man, with very dark eyes and hair, stopped, listened for a long time and took a great interest in the way my grandfather spoke, in the accent typical of Île-aux-Coudres. The indigenous man approached him and said, “Memory is a treasure that allows us to build a future of peace. It is most important that you tend to it, sir.”
My grandfather repeated this phrase every day until he died. He was not ill and, as he liked to say, he died from living. His indigenous friend's phrase were his last words to us: “Memory is a treasure that allows us to build a future of peace.”
There is a good chance that the memory we are referencing today in the House and that bears the heavy burden of the past is the most valued tool that will help us take another step, and then another, and then others towards this reconciliation that is often mentioned but too infrequently made.
There were 3,200 children who died in residential schools and who were abused in every sense of the word. Their bodies, their hearts and their spirits were abused. What about the families and parents who had their children snatched from their arms? What about all the wounds of the past, but also those of today, that are very real, absurd and so sad?
Our memories harbour a thousand and one reasons, and it is up to us to make the present better.
Bill C-5 is a small step, compared to everything that needs to be acknowledged, reconciled and repaired, but it is a meaningful one. We hope to see many more steps, but this is at least something.
The idea of voting in favour of a national day for truth and reconciliation will be met with arguments about the economic costs of legislating another statutory holiday. However, how can we put a price on the more than 150,000 children and families who were torn apart and stripped of the very nature of their existence?
I want to address all of the parents here today. How much are our children's lives worth? What price would we put on their mental and physical health, their laughter, their joy, and their hearts? How much is that worth? Let us think about it. How much will this legislation cost? We can compare.
Let us get back to what really matters. I want to read an excerpt from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada:
The federal government's policy of assimilation sought to break the chain of memory that connected the hearts, minds, and spirits of Aboriginal children to their families, communities, and nations.
Survivors shared their memories with Canada and the world so that the truth could no longer be denied. Survivors also remembered so that other Canadians could learn from these hard lessons of the past. They want Canadians [and Quebeckers] to know, to remember, to care, and [most importantly] to change.
In order for us to know, to remember, and to care about what can be done to bring about deep and lasting change, we must designate this day dedicated to truth and reconciliation. The Bloc Québécois has repeatedly pledged to be an ally of first nations peoples. That is why we will vote for this bill in principle, because it is part of the process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples. It responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations because it will keep the memory of the tragedy experienced by residential school survivors alive and foster an ongoing public dialogue about our national history.
As part of its work, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada refined its definition of reconciliation, and that, in and of itself, is an important sign of progress and a willingness to act. These principles, which can guide us toward reconciliation, are based on and supported by four pillars. They are the right to know, the right to justice, the right to reparation, and the guarantee of non-recurrence, which is the ultimate goal of this process.
This day should be an impetus for us to carry out our individual duty on the other 364 days of the year by carefully assessing the importance of our own actions in fulfilling our obligation to wholeheartedly, honestly and diligently participate in the advancement and improvement of the quality of life of first nations and peace and harmony between our respective nations. That is what it means to take care of something, and caring heals.
In closing, I invite everyone to take out their cellphones, open the “Notes” app and type in this precious memento from my grandfather Bouchard: “Memory is a treasure that allows us to build a future of peace.”
Mr. Speaker, on September 29, the introduced Bill , an act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code regarding a national day for truth and reconciliation.
The purpose of this bill is to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 80 by creating a holiday called the national day for truth and reconciliation, which seeks to honour first nations, Inuit and Métis survivors and their families and communities and to ensure that public commemoration of their history and the legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.
If passed, the bill would add a new holiday, namely, national day for truth and reconciliation, which would be observed every year on September 30.
The Bloc Québécois has repeatedly pledged to be an ally of first nations people. That is why we will vote for this bill in principle, because it is part of the process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples, responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations, and will keep the memory of the tragedy experienced by residential school survivors alive and foster an ongoing public dialogue about our national history.
There is no denying that residential schools are a real blot on Canada's history. Between 1874 and 1996, there were 130 residential schools in Canada attended by over 150,000 indigenous children. The living conditions in those schools were poor. One of the direct causes of the sickness and deaths that occurred was the grossly inadequate funding from the government, which meant the food was of low quality, quantity and variety. The children in most residential schools had to cope with loneliness, a lack of contact with parents and family, frustration with not being allowed to speak their mother tongue, poor quality teaching, hunger, institutionalization, overwork, strict rules, brutality, and the fact that there was no one they could trust.
When they arrived at the residential schools, the children were stripped of their personal belongings and traditional clothing. They had their hair cut off and their names changed, and they were assigned a number. They were given new clothing, white people's clothing, which differed depending on what age group they were in. The children were punished if they spoke their mother tongue. These schools left them scarred and deeply traumatized. Most residential school survivors tell stories of loneliness, strict discipline, and physical, sexual, pedophilic and psychological abuse. Being separated from their parents and families was just the first trauma they endured. The children had to deal with a new culture, a new language and a new disciplinary system imposed on them by white people. Taking these children out of their communities, uprooting them, stripping them of their culture and destabilizing communities that had been shunted onto reserves resulted in deep trauma and social upheaval.
Every year, since September 30, 2013, we have been encouraged to wear orange in honour of the indigenous children who were sent to residential schools. Orange Shirt Day has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening. The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racist and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year. It is also an opportunity for first nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.
Phyllis Webstad started Orange Shirt Day to teach Canadians about the residential school system and to honour the survivors and their families. This day was inspired by Phyllis's own experience. On her first day at a residential school in British Columbia in 1973, her new orange shirt, a gift from her grandmother, was confiscated. She never got it back. This story is a sad example of how the residential school system sought to assimilate and colonialize indigenous children.
From a more technical point of view, the bill we are debating today amends three acts to bring about a single change: establishing September 30 as the national day for truth and reconciliation and making it a statutory holiday. The three acts in question are the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code.
Clause 1 of the bill clearly situates its purpose within the context of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Clause 2 of the bill amends subparagraph 42(a)(i) of the Bills of Exchange Act to add the new national day for truth and reconciliation to the list of statutory holidays covered by the act. In practical terms, what this means is that, if Bill is passed, September 30 will no longer count in the calculation of deadlines shorter than three days as set out in the Bills of Exchange Act. Consequently, a bill of exchange or cheque payable by September 30 will be payable on the next business day.
Clause 3 of the bill amends the portion of the definition of “holiday” in paragraph (a) of subsection 35(1) of the Interpretation Act to include the new national day for truth and reconciliation. The act guides the courts in interpreting federal legislation. The new statutory holiday would therefore be enshrined in federal legislation.
Clause 4 of the bill amends section 166 of part III of the Canada Labour Code to include the proposed new day in the definition of “general holiday”.
Clause 5 of the bill amends subsection 193(2) of the Canada Labour Code to entitle employees to a holiday with pay on the working day immediately preceding or following the general holiday if the holiday falls on the weekend.
Clause 6 provides that the bill will come into force two months after it receives royal assent on the day with the same calendar number as the day on which it receives royal assent or the last day of that second month. For example, if the bill receives royal assent on December 30, 2020, it would come into force on February 28, 2021. It it receives royal assent on January 1, 2021 it would come into force on March 1, 2021.
As you know, the riding of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, which I represent here in the House, has several families who survived residential schools. It is therefore important to me that this bill is passed out of respect for them and in the interest of remembrance.
In the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, two quotes caught my attention.
The first is, “Survivors shared their memories with Canada and the world so that the truth could no longer be denied. Survivors also remembered so that other Canadians could learn from these hard lessons of the past. They want Canadians to know, to remember, to care, and to change.”
All those who attended residential school suffered terribly from being separated from their parents, their brothers and sisters and their culture.
This is the second quotation: “The federal government's policy of assimilation sought to break the chain of memory that connected the hearts, minds, and spirits of Aboriginal children to their families, communities, and nations.”
Imagine for a moment being taken from your family, denied your culture, your nation and your language, having to wear different clothing than what you are used to, and living entirely differently. We would be damaged for the rest of our lives.
In closing, commemoration requires more than just the declaration of a special day as proposed in Bill . It needs to happen through ceremonies and activities that will spark dialogue on the history of Indian residential schools. However, these measures must not relieve society of its responsibility for past mistakes.
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be here today to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the MP who brought this bill forward initially, Georgina Jolibois. I am continuously inspired by her work and by her amazing representation of indigenous communities across Canada.
We are here today for many reasons. This bill is really about the reality that on September 30 we celebrate Orange Shirt Day, a national day to recognize truth and reconciliation. We want to take that day and make it into a statutory holiday, one where all members of Canada are committed to being a part of recognizing this part of our history: the stealing of children from their families; the many deaths of indigenous children during these terrible, long, dark times; and the trauma and torture they and their families experienced.
An elder from my riding named Alberta Billy once told me to imagine what would happen to myself and my community if every child from the age of four to 16 were suddenly removed. No one knew who they were with and who was caring for them. That always hits me hard. I cannot imagine any of us thinking about all our precious children, however we know them, being removed from our communities, and the silence and sadness that would hit all of us as we looked around and did not see their beautiful faces.
This day should be a day where Canadians understand the incredible resilience of indigenous communities, because they are still here in the face of such adversity.
Today, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize my husband, Darren Blaney, who is a survivor of residential school. When he was in residential school, his number was 97. When I think about a soul, a human being, identified by a number and losing so much more of their identity, I am absolutely heartbroken.
Many members in this House have spoken about the importance of education in this bill. I want to let people know that as of March 31, 2019, the government had only spent $4.5 million over its four years on education initiatives around indigenous history and residential school. This is simply not sufficient and not strategic, but is another piecemeal approach to this complex and dire situation the country needs to understand more fulsomely.
I want this day to be treated in the future with the sacred solemness it deserves. That means resources so all Canadians can take the moment and the time to remember these beautiful souls and the reality they and their communities are faced with. We want people to remember the story of Phyllis Jack, whose beautiful and sad story gives us Orange Shirt Day. She was six when she went to residential school. Her grandmother bought her a beautiful orange shirt to wear.
Who does not have a memory attached to those first days of school? It is a moment where, as kids, we felt proud, a piece of clothing that tells a child they are loved. As a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or loved one, we sometimes buy a special piece of clothing for the first day of school knowing that in that act, we are sending that child into something new and sometimes scary, with a little bit of love.
In residential school, imagine how much more important this was. Not only were we buying a beautiful piece of clothing for a beloved child. We also knew that child would be leaving their family. They would leave and not understand how long it would be until they got to see their family again.
Imagine being a grandmother and feeling the utter hopelessness and fear of being forced to send a beloved grandchild to residential school, knowing all that grandmother can do is buy a shirt to somehow comfort that small body who will soon be longing for family and home. All too often in the history of Canada and today in Canada, indigenous people, communities and children are dehumanized.
Today there are still just too many children being taken from their homes into care through apprehension. These numbers are even higher than the numbers of children taken from their families to be put in residential schools. This is something that we all must be accountable for as Canadians. We must all understand that we have an obligation. Every time the government does not fulfill the compliance orders that are asked of it, it shows again that the dehumanization of indigenous children is continuing and it is not okay. We must always speak against it, not just in platitudes but in action and in resources so that those communities can begin to rebuild in a more profound and sustainable way.
We know that there are still too many suicides in indigenous communities across Canada. One chief in my riding told me not too long ago, “I am working so hard to build up an economic base of strength for my community so that we can have a future that is positive and something hopeful for our young people, but when I have young people hanging themselves in our community, it is so hard to continue to push and to build. These are the everyday lived experiences of indigenous communities across this country. We cannot pretend that it is not directly linked to colonialism and to the residential school history that this country holds and still does not disclose in a more profound way so that we can all carry this burden, not just indigenous communities.”
We continue to work in our indigenous communities across Canada because of generations of residential school. That is important to recognize. This is generations of residential school, generations of communities that were suddenly empty of every child between the ages of four and 16. What does that do to a people and a community, and how do they rebuild after generations and generations? They only rebuild by resiliency, which indigenous communities have displayed again and again, but they also need the resources to be able to do that.
Parents are still learning how to parent. Traditions are still coming back to our communities and those communities need to be supported to allow parents the time to learn how to parent, build those capacities. A lot of communities across my riding have been asking for support. They want to see things get better in their communities. They see those beautiful pearls of resilience and growth and strength, but they need the resources to invest in them.
When I hear people say again and again, sadly, that it is over, that those days are over, the history is over and indigenous people need to get over it, I am both devastated and angry. It is not over. We are seeing that today in situations in indigenous communities across this country. We are seeing that today with the RCMP not responding appropriately when they should, because they do not know how to do it. We need to do better than that and Canada needs to do better than that. The impacts of residential schools and colonialism are not over; they are resounding through this country every single day.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report stated, “Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.”
The bill is a small step, but it is a step toward all of Canadian society reconsidering, reviewing and looking at things differently. One of the things that I know to be true is that impact and intent can totally be separated. When we look at systemic racism and we look at racism, some people know an intent that they may have, but they do not understand the impact. We must be responsible for our impact, not only our intent.
Today, as we go through the reality, we know that systemic racism continues to be a huge issue and all Canadians have to be responsible for addressing it.
I want to talk about systemic racism because I have people tell me that they do not understand what systemic racism means. We are seeing it right now in the Mi'Kmaq community. The reality is no one should be surprised that this has been the outcome. The fact is that the federal government did not take leadership, did not create a plan and did not create space for this disconnect; it created a space for discontent and violence and for it to continue to grow.
Reconciliation is a Canadian problem, and one that has a long history.
We need a government that will actually pay attention and create a plan so that we do not get to these places where people are incredibly unsafe, where the disruption in the community is profound and the wounds will take a long time to heal. It is unfair that the federal government does not take leadership and instead allows small indigenous communities to face these challenges with few or no resources to address them. That is systemic racism. Not having a plan is systemic racism.
Systemic racism can also look like other things, and this brings me back to the intention and the impact. My son, when he was in grade 5, went to school one day. When he was in class, the teacher brought them to the library and sat the classroom down. The librarian showed a picture of a class of children at a residential school and asked them, “What do you see in this picture?” The indigenous children, all with their hair severely cut, looked very sad. They were all wearing uniforms.
A lot of the children had things to say, like, “Maybe they didn't get their hot lunch” or “Maybe they were planning to go on a trip but they didn't get to, and that is why they are so sad.”
My son talked about sitting in that room, listening to a lot of non-indigenous young people give their ideas. He talked about his pain and frustration as he looked at that picture were because he knew immediately what that was. As he listened to the other children not knowing what it was, it made him realize how alone he was, how so few people understand the history of this country, and how much pressure he felt to have to educate and disclose the reality.
Finally, it burst out of him. He said, “Maybe it is because they are indigenous children in residential school and all they want is to go home to their parents.”
I do not think this teacher had any bad intention. I believe her complete intention was to educate and to show the kids in the class the history of Canada, but she did not think about the impact.
This is so important. I have had a lot of young people talk to me and their parents about Orange Shirt Day, and how that day actually scares them. As indigenous children, as they learn this history, they become fearful that they may be taken from their families. The impact can often be unintended. That is why it is so important, when we address systemic racism, that we begin to ask questions, that we be curious about these issues, and that we stop putting the burden of educating on indigenous families, children and communities.
Years later, when my son moved up to middle school, he was actually able to work with his father on a piece of art for his school to recognize the history of indigenous residential school. This piece of art is still hanging in Southgate Middle School. It was a transformation mask that talked about the intention of residential school to take the Indian out of the child. On the front of it, there is a white face that opens up and shows an indigenous face. My son was very proud when they brought it to the school. It gave him the ability to talk about the history that was a reality for him every day in his life.
It is important, as this bill says, to dedicate a day to recognize the amazing power and resilience of the first people of this land. I want to make sure that this is really recognized as a part of this day. My granny went to Lejac Residential School in British Columbia for the majority of her childhood.
She was a fierce woman who I admired greatly and was slightly terrified of. I never once in my life saw her in a pair of pants. Even in the coldest parts of winter, she was always done up, wearing a dress, her hair and face made up, and often wearing a fabulous hairpiece, which she was known for.
She used to tell me, frequently, “No complaining, Rachel, we are still here. If you don't like it, work on fixing it.” It took me years to understand that she was teaching me the power of indigenous people across country, We are still here, and the guilt of non-indigenous people and what they feel is really not helpful.
In the face of colonial history, including initial contact, there has been smallpox, residential school, racism, systemic racism, child apprehension and constant interference, at all levels of government, in indigenous communities and their ability to create economic development. In the continuous face of all these challenges, generation after generation, indigenous people are still here, still fighting and still finding a way to hold on to their traditions and their history. They are still here.
When I think of Orange Shirt Day, I think of my granny who survived tremendous challenges, and of my dad and my aunties and uncles who have worked so hard to reclaim our culture and our history and make sure that her grandchildren have had that connection.
This bill would help acknowledge, for one day, the history of this country and the current reality of this history. There is so much work to be done. I hope that all members in the House and all Canadians understand that we must all be part of working toward that. This is one step. It is not enough, but it is a step, and in all the steps that we take we continue to move forward. This bill moved through the House before, in the last Parliament, and it died in the Senate. I certainly hope that does not happen again.
In closing, there have been conversations among the parties and if you seek it, I hope you will find unanimous consent for the following motion: That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders this day or when no members rise to speak, whichever comes first, Bill , shall be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole; deemed considered in committee of the whole; deemed reported, without amendment; deemed concurred in at report stage; and deemed read a third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill , an act that would amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code to add a new statutory holiday, a national day for truth and reconciliation.
I want to begin by acknowledging that I am speaking from the largest Mi'kmaq community in the world in my home community, which is also the unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq.
Today, we are discussing an important step forward on the path of reconciliation and healing for first nations, Inuit and Métis people. It is a step forward in publicly honouring survivors, their families and communities by implementing calls to action 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to establish a statutory holiday, a national day for truth and reconciliation.
Before my time as an MP, I was a professor at Cape Breton University. I taught Mi'kmaq history and about the Indian residential schools. I was also the treaty education lead for Nova Scotia, which meant that I would do presentations for schools, businesses, industry and all those who asked about the truth and reconciliation and the Indian residential schools. People would ask me why they were never taught this before, why they were just learning this for this first time.
The Indian residential schools operated in my home province of Nova Scotia between 1929 and 1967 in Shubenacadie. In my home province, for more than 40 years, children were forcefully removed from their homes. They were forcefully removed from all they ever knew, taken from loving Mi'kmaq families.
I will share two startling facts that I always shared in those presentations.
The first comes from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The odds of dying for a soldier in World War II was one in 26. The odds of dying for children in the Indian residential schools was one in 25. Let that sink in. These were not soldiers with guns and helmets. These were children wearing their Sunday-best clothes, Sunday dresses, and they never came home. That is why we call them survivors, like my Aunt Eleanor Mitchell, my Uncle Fudd Lewis and the brave author from Sipekne'katik, Isabelle Knockwood. When I was a young student at that same university, I read her book and realized the horrible legacy of the residential schools and the horrible treatment of these children.
When we talk of truth and reconciliation, we speak of the children. However, I want members to think about their children at home. For all who are listening and for all in the House right now, imagine all the joy children bring into our lives, the birthdays, Christmas. Imagine all the things we do with our children that brings utter joy into our lives. Now imagine a community without those children, without that joy—
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Getting back to what I was just saying, I am a father of a 10-year-old Mi'kmaq boy and I think about all the joy that he brings into my life. I ask members to think about what it would be like, as a community, to have successive generations of children taken away. Imagine the apathy that would create. Imagine the heartbreak of having your children removed from your homes.
Colleagues, this is why it is important that we reflect on the TRC calls to action and why we need a national day to remember that terrible chapter in Canadian history. That is why we are here, to bring call to action number 80 to life and make September 30 the national day of truth and reconciliation.
The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said:
Reconciliation must become a way of life. It will take many years to repair damaged trust and relationships.... Reconciliation not only requires apologies, reparations, the relearning of Canada’s national history, and public commemoration, but also needs real social, political, and economic change. Ongoing public education and dialogue are essential to reconciliation. Governments, churches, educational institutions, and Canadians from all walks of life are responsible for taking action on reconciliation in concrete ways, working collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples. Reconciliation begins with each and every one of us.
This national day would honour the survivors of the painful legacy of residential schools, along with their families and communities. It would be a reminder to everyone in Canada to never forget the pain and trauma that residential schools caused and continue to cause, passed on as intergenerational trauma. It would create an opportunity for indigenous survivors of residential schools and their loved ones to tell their stories, and it would be an opportunity for the rest of us to learn carefully.
I firmly believe that the proposed national day of truth and reconciliation will be a way for us to amplify and strengthen the voices of first nations, Inuit and Métis people. It will be a way to ensure that the stories and experiences, the pain, the trauma and the history of first nations, Inuit and Métis people are never forgotten. It will be a way to keep these histories alive in our hearts and in our minds, so that they may inform our actions going forward. With this, we may build a brighter future based on a renewed nation-to-nation, government-to-government and Inuit-to-Crown relationship based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
It is important to emphasize that this day should be utilized like Remembrance Day, as an opportunity to educate all Canadian children across Canada on this vital and tragic part of our history, should this legislation become law.
I would like to quote Senator Murray Sinclair, who stated, “While Indigenous children were being mistreated in residential schools by being told they were heathens, savages and pagans and inferior people—that same message was being delivered in the public schools of this country.” We need to change that. We need to see real funding and material support allocated to heritage, so that we can provide educational materials and tangible supports to school boards across Canada in telling these stories and this part of our shared history.
This is of fundamental importance to schools across the country. I remember, in December of 2015, when they talked about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and it was launched. I remember our telling a story of when he went to school. When it was time to discuss indigenous history, it was skipped over by the teacher saying, it was not very interesting. That day, our Prime Minister made a vow that never again will indigenous history be skipped over and never again will indigenous Canadians be told that their history is not integral to Canadian history. With the passage of the bill, we help ensure that people will never ask why they were never taught this in our schools.
I always used to talk in my treaty education presentations about the rice experiment by Dr. Emoto. There were two jars of water and rice. One jar was fed nothing but positive energy, saying, “You're great. You're good. You're good rice,” whatever they tell water and rice in an experiment. The other jar of water and rice was fed nothing but negativity, saying “You're worthless. You'll never amount to anything.” After seven weeks of this experiment, they noticed that the water and rice that was fed negativity began to mould and go bad.
If this is what seven weeks can do to water and rice, imagine what seven generations can do to an entire people when they are told they are worthless and inferior. This is what indigenous people in the country have had to deal with.
The failures of one generation can be the opportunities of the next. With this bill, with education, with awareness, this is where we could be in the future.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by acknowledging that I am on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
I think we can all agree on the importance of acknowledging the history and legacy of residential schools and their tragic impact on first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. It is my hope that Bill will receive the support of all members of the House.
The last residential school closed its doors in 1996, just 24 years ago. This is not ancient history. The number of survivors is great, the victims and their families greater. The healing process will take time, and this bill is a step toward righting the wrongs inflicted throughout our colonial past.
September is a painful time for many indigenous peoples. It was the month that their children were taken back to school year after year and forced to leave their loved ones and communities behind. It is appropriate to mark this pain experienced by generations of indigenous children, parents, families and communities, a pain that continues to be passed on today in the form of intergenerational trauma, with a solemn day of reflection, remembrance and action toward reconciliation. It is a day to honour residential school survivors and their families and to learn about their stories.
On September 29, the announced a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action number 80, which seeks to establish, as a federal statutory holiday, a national day for truth and reconciliation. This day will honour survivors, their families and their communities while ensuring that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.
This bill seeks to establish a national day for truth and reconciliation that will be observed on September 30. As members may know, this is a particularly significantly date for indigenous peoples. It is the date of a grassroots movement called Orange Shirt Day, started by Phyllis Webstad, named for the orange shirt that she and her grandmother chose for her first day of residential school, only to have it stolen away when she arrived. Her orange shirt has become a symbol for the cultures, languages and childhoods that were ripped away from the more than 150,000 students of residential schools.
Every year on Orange Shirt Day, we encourage Canadians to take time to listen to the stories of survivors, learn about residential schools and come together to give hope to every child of current and future generations. This day would further spread these stories of pain and hope.
This year, on September 30, I walked by a school in my riding during lunch hour and on the playground I saw a sea of orange. Students had all come to school wearing orange shirts and, more importantly, were learning the legacy of residential schools. This is something that did not happen when I was their age or even when my son was in school.
The work of preserving these stories and educating Canadians about the horrors perpetrated at residential schools is extremely difficult and painful. That is why I would like to praise the work done by the amazing people at the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ontario. Opened in 1972, the centre aims to preserve, present, create and educate people on the history, art, language and culture of the Haudenosaunee people of the Eastern Woodlands. It was established at the site of the Mohawk Institute residential school, the oldest residential school in Canada, which was operated from 1829 through 1970. It was nicknamed the Mush Hole by its students, as the children were fed only oatmeal three times a day, every day.
With its museum, art galleries, library and language centre, I encourage anyone able to visit the Woodland Cultural Centre for a unique and sobering learning experience to do so. It will be offering a virtual public tour on November 18 at 7 p.m. More information can be found at woodlandculturalcentre.ca.
Earlier this year, I attended a performance of The Mush Hole at The Burlington Performing Arts Centre. Telling the terrible story of what happened at the Mohawk Institute through dance and theatre, The Mush Hole is based on interviews and writings by residential school survivors. It explores not only what happened at the Mush Hole, but the intergenerational trauma experienced by the survivors and their families.
To further preserve and spread the history of residential schools, the Portage la Prairie residential school in Manitoba and the Shubenacadie residential school in Nova Scotia are being declared national historic sites this year. It is my hope that the Woodland Cultural Centre will also be declared a national historic site.
The residential school system is a national tragedy, a stain of colonialism upheld by systemic racism. Acknowledging its past and educating Canadians about the experience of indigenous children in these schools will ensure that this history is never forgotten and never repeated. It is a step toward righting past wrongs.
The introduction of Bill is a step forward in the healing process of survivors and their families who were harmed under this federally operated system. Once this bill has passed, the residential school system would be designated as an event of national historic significance, helping Canadians understand our history and its consequences.
While the government has taken important steps toward reconciliation, much more needs to be done. Canadians' understanding of the painful legacy of residential schools is vital to truth-telling, reconciliation and the recognition of past injustices. It will inform our future actions with the full knowledge of what has been done to indigenous people across this land.
A few years ago, in my riding, I held a screening of the documentary We Were Children. It tells the story of two children who were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools where they suffered years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Afterward, an 80-year-old former MP said he learned more in that night than he had in his entire life. New Canadians in attendance asked why they had never learned about this when they came to Canada. This all speaks to the importance of educating Canadians about our colonial past and the impact on generations of indigenous peoples.
In 2012, I had the opportunity to visit Pelican Falls First Nations High School in Sioux Lookout, a former residential school that is now run by the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council. While there, I had the honour to meet executive director Norma Kejick, an incredible woman whose good work was highlighted in the book Seven Fallen Feathers. Norma gave us a tour which included the surrounding forest, where many students died while trying to find their way home when it was a residential school.
When I left the school, I broke down in tears. How could a country treat innocent children in such a horrific way? How could we strip them from their families, the love of their parents and their broader community? How could we try to erase their culture and language? It is unimaginable to me that we could treat other humans this way, and yet we did it in the not so distant past.
A national day for truth and reconciliation would give us the opportunity to listen to all indigenous voices, reflect on past wrongs, learn from our mistakes and take action to advance meaningful reconciliation. On Orange Shirt Day, every child matters, and ever indigenous child deserves to be cared for, feel the full sense of their worth and feel hopeful for their future. Every single person in Canada shares the burden and shame of our reality.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services, I know how important reconciliation is to our government, but I also know there is much more work to be done. Designating September 30 as the national day for truth and reconciliation would represent a national acknowledgement of our country's history and a way to honour survivors of residential schools.
Mr. Speaker, it has been an interesting day listening to speeches. I worked last night on this intervention. It is challenging, in the sense of my background and culture.
It takes me back to the heritage committee when we dealt with this topic, and my understanding and knowledge were lacking. We depended on the witnesses to inform, explain and educate us. Were they all on the same page? No, there were differences of opinion about which day, indigenous day, orange shirt day. We heard opinions about more important things that should be done. It was interesting to listen as they brought it to us at that committee.
By the way, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
The bill has now been returned to the House. The goal of this legislation is extremely important, with the reconciliation with indigenous people as the national objective. The residential school is a dark chapter in Canadian history. I did not live it. My family did not live it, but I have visited Siksika Nation, which is in my riding. It is the second largest nation in the country. On that nation there were two residential schools run by two different Christian faiths. One school is gone. The other school is still there. I visited those places with elders. Where the school is gone, there is what they believe to be an unmarked graveyard with no recognition but memories of who went there and never came home.
The other one that is still standing is now called Old Sun Community College. The building has been refitted, changed and provides programs that suit the times that are needed now. As I walked through that building with an elder, there were parts of that building she would go through and parts she would not. She remembered some horrific things in that building, like the day her sister fell three storeys and landed at her feet and it killed her. That should not have happened, but it did. I cannot remember that because it is not part of my background, but I could listen to an elder tell me that story. The story of when she was six years old and would go to school and escape and go home. Her parents would be horrified that she was there, because they knew the Indian agent would soon arrive at the door threatening to take away anything that they had unless she was returned to school. That is not part of my memory, but it is part of my learning.
The bill is important and we are putting the onus on 5% of the population to teach us. Is that the way to do it? We have adults in this country who do not have this education or the opportunity. The town of Strathmore has done phenomenal work with the Siksika Nation. Many students from both communities, Siksika and Strathmore, go to that school. The drama teacher in that school wrote a phenomenal play called New Blood. It is put on by high school students from Strathmore and Siksika. It needs to be seen far and wide because it would educate adults.
I have visited our National Arts Centre, which now has two indigenous employees, but it has no money. I want the play to come to Ottawa. We need adults educated. As mentioned many times in the House, education is a critical piece. However, it is not just for students, it is for adults as well. I have watched that play and seen what the adults learned from it. It is put on by indigenous and non-indigenous students working together to produce a fantastic story of reconciliation with history in it.
Today, as I look at the notes I had and listen to the members, I look at the structure of, for example, Siksika.
Members can look at what the federal governments, provincial governments and municipal governments are responsible for, but do they understand what a municipal government, supposedly, at the band level does? Siksika Nation's council takes care of the roads and the sewer and the water, when it works, if it works, if it is there, but they are also responsible for education in their nation and they are responsible for health. There is a whole broad range of things they are responsible for, and we, as an adult country, do not understand the challenges that level of government has and the responsibilities it has. We do not know that unless we take the time to learn.
How are we going to learn it? Are we putting the onus of this bill on 5% of the population, without resources, to teach the rest of us? That is not going to work.
We have a piece of legislation that should be approved. I totally agree that it should be approved. However, where is the backup, in the sense of what the responsibility is to get the education for this to the population? I am not talking about schoolchildren; I am talking about the adult population. Where is it? We are now putting a heavy debt back on the indigenous people to educate the rest of us by saying, “You've got a day”.
I totally agree with the day. On Siksika reserve, one of the councillors led a walk from those unmarked graves at the school, which is gone, across the nation to the other school. That is an education those people understand. They are walking those footpaths. They are walking the footpaths that their elders walked when they went back and forth. We were not there. We do not know that path. We have to learn it, or this just becomes another holiday, which is wrong. We cannot let this slip into another holiday, yet we are putting the onus on the indigenous people to do it. We are naming it. I am a person who is not of that culture. It is not my history.
I remember when we passed the indigenous languages bill, Bill , at the heritage committee. We had many witnesses come, and the ones I liked the best were the ones who said, “How is the money going to get to our school kids so we can keep our heritage and our culture with our language?”
I made amendments at that committee, and they did not pass. I wanted the money to go directly to the school level, just like the federal government does with the gas tax, which goes directly to the municipality. We bypass the other people and it gets done. I wanted the money to go to the indigenous communities and their schools. That is not where it went. It went to the three major organizations in this country. The leadership of Siksika Nation asked me about this legislation and the money. I said to ask the government and to ask their indigenous organizations where it is. Where is it? They are not preserving their language; they are not getting the money.
We have to work at the grassroots level, just like the indigenous people understand they need to do with their language. They need to get into their schools and teach their own children their languages to keep their cultures. It is an oral culture. They have passed many things on orally. It is a story culture, from elders to generation to generation, but they are not getting the money.
My fear is that we will pass this and we will have a day of recognition. They will be proud to have it, but will the 95% of the rest of Canadians have a clue? That is my fear.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to acknowledge the land on which I speak today in Fredericton, which is Wolastoqiyik territory, unceded, unsurrendered land operating under the Peace and Friendship Treaties. We cannot just say these words. We must have intention and action behind them, and I implore each member of the House to do just that.
It is an honour to have the opportunity to speak to Bill , and I wish to thank my Conservative colleague for sharing his time with me today.
The issue of meaningful reconciliation is an issue that is important to my constituents and to people across this country, and it is particularly close to my heart for many, many reasons. The first is as a mom of indigenous children. My boys are Wolastoqiyik. They are being raised with an appreciation for their identity, language and culture.
My oldest son is in grade 3 in a public school that has made incredible efforts to not only include indigenous knowledge, history and culture but to truly celebrate it. It is front and centre at every school assembly and event, and in daily routines. There are integrated educational opportunities for all children, and there are unique learning opportunities for indigenous youth through permanent staff employed by our local first nation community, who work at the school every day in innovative and exciting ways.
My youngest son is three years old and attends an on-reserve head start program at the Welamukotuk Early Learning Centre. He receives instruction from his family members and some of our close friends. He is surrounded with love and care and dedication to culturally responsive education. Incidentally, his first day of school was on Orange Shirt Day last year. I could not help but think of the beauty of coming full circle like that, and the symbolic significance that his education will begin and proceed so differently than so many of his ancestors'.
My oldest child looks more like me, with Celtic roots and light skin, although he is proud to be indigenous. My youngest looks more like my husband, with dark skin and dark eyes. My prayer for him is always that he will not grow to experience racism and discrimination because of who he is. I pray he will not feel like he does not belong or that he is not represented in the curriculum he learns throughout his educational journey, as my husband has felt.
Another reason Bill is so important to me is due to my passion for teaching. My work in the public school system in New Brunswick was on behalf of first nation communities. I worked to include accurate history and improve access to language and cultural experiences for indigenous students, as well as to advocate for institutional reforms for enhanced social justice equity in our provincial education system.
I have seen the many ways our system continues to fail indigenous students. I have also seen the incredible resilience of indigenous students, and I have had the honour to witness inspiring growth, activism and leadership. This generation of youth is ready to tackle our biggest challenges and to lead Canada into a brighter future as the fastest-growing demographic. The seven generations concept comes to mind and reinforces the idea that we bring with us the lessons and experiences of our ancestors and that both trauma and healing pass through the bloodline to the present day, that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable and equitable world seven generations into the future.
This brings me to our responsibility as Canadians. Orange Shirt Day, in an educational context, is an opportunity to learn, honour and acknowledge the calls to action, and to create space for indigenous elders and survivors to share their truth and feel our love and appreciation. Schools, businesses and organizations across New Brunswick proudly wear orange and undertake events and activities. This takes the form of healing walks, school assemblies, language lessons, mini powwows and other creative and formative expressions.
I worry Bill , which would make this day a holiday, could have the consequence of losing some of the momentum that has been built around awareness, particularly in our schools. I also worry that the concession of this day being only for federal employees may have the consequence of losing the power of the intent of a national holiday. I will certainly do all I can to prevent this in my community, and I would like to see some extra assurances with dedicated investments around this bill.
I am also not convinced the bill represents a meaningful act of reconciliation with indigenous peoples, especially considering events that are transpiring around the country. It seems to me the government makes a habit of selecting only the easiest calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, abandoning those that require genuine effort, abdicating responsibility for the hard work we must undertake.
I remind the House there is a long list of education and health outcomes that should be our focus, those that would have lasting impacts for positive change, the sorts of changes that would mean indigenous women would not have to suffer as Joyce Echaquan did in her last moments of life and the sorts of changes that would mean Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi might still be with us today.
So far, most of the change I am seeing in Canada is a result of the efforts of indigenous communities and individuals. This is unacceptable. Canada has a responsibility to make things right. Canada must make amends. Canada must have these difficult conversations and must show leadership.
Our success will be measured in the way we respond to indigenous nations on an ongoing basis when questions of sovereignty arise, as they have in Nova Scotia in recent weeks. It will be measured in the way we embrace the collective and inherent rights of indigenous peoples, the way we carry out our relationships with these nations, and the way we embolden or chastise racist commentary from Canadians who do not yet understand these rights.
I recognize that a national memorial holiday was included in the TRC, and I have committed to stand behind each call to action; therefore, I will certainly vote in favour of the bill. However, I hope the government understands its continuing responsibility to support educational initiatives and to fund events and activities around this national holiday. The work we do today in the House will have repercussions on the next seven generations. It will be the foundation of a future in which we understand the truth of our past and celebrate what we have built together.
I implore Canadians to observe this holiday, to learn the true intention behind it and to take on the challenge of becoming allies and champions of reconciliation.
I will end with a metaphor sent to me by Eddy Charlie, a member of the Cowichan Nation and a residential school survivor. He described the long-term intergenerational impacts of the trauma inflicted by residential schools as poison leeched into a river, contaminating everything along the way. He said, “We've been contaminated by hate, pain and aggression, and until we clean up that river, we'll always be stuck in a really bad place.”
The process of cleaning up that river is under way. It is our job as parliamentarians, and as Canadians, to roll up our sleeves and get to work.