By John Horgan, leader of B.C.’s New Democrats
National Aboriginal Day is a day for all Canadians to reflect on the contributions Aboriginal people have made to our country. It is also a day to reflect on the troubled relationships that our governments continue to have with First Nations communities, communities which were on this land long before our laws and our governments arrived.
This National Aboriginal Day bears special significance. It comes at a time when Canadians are being asked to consider the hard truths put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
This is a time of reflection, but it must also be a time of action. It’s a time to heal the wounds of centuries of racism, to heal them by accepting the great harm we have done and the work we have to do to make right.
The commission recently released the summary of their final report into the residential school system. This summary presents heartbreaking evidence of how generations of First Nations families were torn apart through state-sanctioned policies that the Chief Justice of Canada’s Supreme Court has called “cultural genocide.”
This verdict was echoed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which outlined how over more than a century, Canada tried “to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada.”
This report should be required reading for all of Canada’s political leaders. It must also inform school curricula so that the true and unsanitized history of the Indian Residential School System can be told and understood by all British Columbians and by all Canadians.
The Truth and Reconciliation commission found that “child neglect was institutionalized.” It also found that “the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers” in Canada’s residential schools.
What the state did to Aboriginal, Metis and Inuit children was wrong, and these wrongs continue to reverberate today.
If we wish to right those wrongs we must do more than say sorry. We have to take action.
True reconciliation from the dark legacy of the Indian Residential Schools System will require strong leadership and a willingness by all levels of government to heed the 94 “Calls to Action” delivered in the summary report.
Government responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report will define our relationships with Aboriginal people not just today, but in the decades and centuries to come.
The Commission heard much about the aftermath of residential schools over their six years of work. Many brave individuals came forward and bared their souls in heart-wrenching testimony, testimony that illustrated not just the horror of the Indian Residential School System, but the ongoing trauma left in its wake.
In honour and respect for those survivors and those no longer with us, we must take the commission’s calls to action to heart.
This report must not be treated like a public relations exercise, with governments half-heartedly implementing a few recommendations and leaving the hard work to future generations.
We’ve already seen enough of that in British Columbia – with the B.C. Liberal government refusing to fully implement the recommendations made by the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry. Years after the report was released we are still fighting for an enhanced public transportation system along the Highway of Tears, even though the commissioner urged the government to act immediately.
Similarly, we’ve seen report after report into the tragic lives and deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of the B.C. Ministry of Child and Family Development, and yet little has changed.
Enough is enough. We have to do better.