Mr. Speaker, I believe congratulations are in order from the sounds of things.
I really appreciate the opportunity to speak today and to say to all members of the House ulaakut. I speak today in representing the indigenous people of Labrador, all Labradorians who live in the lands of the Innu and the Inuit of the region.
Like many before me today, we acknowledge our Parliament is located on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people. I, like many Canadians, am thankful for the freedom we have to speak and for the opportunity to speak to what has been a sad legacy and a dark chapter of residential schools in Canada.
I will be sharing my time today with my colleague, the member for Winnipeg North.
The residential school system is a national tragedy. It was born of colonialism and it was propelled by systemic racism. We can all agree on that. I think all of us are still very shocked and profoundly upset with the news we heard coming out of Kamloops in the last week. Unfortunately, the first nations of Kamloops are alone and, once again, this is evidence of the pain experienced by generations from the legacy of residential schools and the system in which they were entrapped.
Many continue to experience that pain today. I know this very well, because I know my riding and the people I serve. Many of them are victims of residential schools. The pain and hurt of that experience follows them to this day and unfortunately will follow them and their families for generations to come.
Our government is the first in Canadian history to step up and talk openly about reconciliation with indigenous people. We are the first government to establish that reconciliation with indigenous people is a priority for us and for Canada, and Canadians support and embrace this.
I also want to outline that as a government we are deeply committed to advancing reconciliation, the healing of Indian residential school survivors and their families, and providing supports, depending on the wishes of those communities. More specifically, we are deeply committed to supporting survivors, families and communities, and helping to locate and memorialize through ceremony the children who died and went missing.
The first residential schools were open toward the end of the 19th century and never ceased operation until nearly the close of the 20th century, in 1996. That is only about 25 years ago, so it is not ancient history and it is not without its impacts being felt as deeply as they are today.
The darkness and the pain that came with learning the news is not going to cease today, tomorrow or in the days and years ahead. However, I hope someday in our country we will have achieved reconciliation and healing for all those who were deeply harmed and hurt.
The legacy of residential schools continues to this day with indigenous people, as I said, and it is felt in many ways, through poverty, food insecurity, mental illness, physical health and, more commonly and most known, through death by suicide. This is the sad outcome and the legacy that follow residential schools.
For first nations, Inuit and Métis, while they live with this legacy, they also live with the post-traumatic stress and the intergenerational trauma that accompanies it.
What I do know is this. In the riding I represent in Labrador, despite consistent lobbying and advocating, despite good investments that we have made and continue to make, there still needs to be more focus on mental health and on healing. There are still far too many people who are asking for help that they are not getting. There are still far too many people who are reaching out in words and actions to a dead end. We need to focus on that.
If we are really to help in this healing process, it has to start with mental health services. It has to start with providing the supports that people need to function in everyday life. It has to start with ending poverty and closing the gap that exists between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians. It has to ensure that there is food security, that there is heat security and that opportunities are equal to all kids.
As we talk about the dark chapters and the sad legacy of residential schools, I also fear for the future yet of many indigenous kids in our country, only because I see what transpires before our eyes each and every day still. Far too many kids are still being removed from their communities, cultures, language and the people who love them. While they may be removed to be safe, we need to find ways to keep indigenous kids safe without having them lose everything else that provides value in their lives.
I deal with issues almost on a daily basis in my riding of children who are being sent hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of kilometres away to be fostered in families and homes, which I am sure, in many cases, are loving and supportive. However, I know these children are losing things that are very valuable to them. They are losing the opportunity to grow up in their own culture and to learn their own language. They are losing the opportunity to visit with those they have learned to love and know.
We need to find a better way, and we can only do that when we work with leadership within first nations, Inuit and Métis governments. This has to be a priority for everyone. Indigenous children have to be a priority for everyone. While it is a priority in terms of when we speak and give that commitment, we need to ensure that it translates into real, substantial change on the ground that will ensure the safety of these children, of their mental and physical health, and the overall well-being of these children as well.
When we talk about the legacy of residential schools, we feel each and every day, as we walk with those we know and love, the serious consequences that it has left behind. I know many people have asked that history be erased in some way, but we should never erase history. When it is so bad, so sad, so horrifying, we should never repeat it. For that to happen, we need to fully understand it.
If we are to move toward meaningful reconciliation for indigenous people and non-indigenous people, together moving forward, then we need to have that level of respect. We need to have transparency. We need to have accountability, but we also need to have understanding, a full understanding—