moved that Bill C-369, An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Indigenous Peoples Day), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today in the House of Commons to present the first hour of debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-369. In short, my bill seeks to make National Indigenous Peoples Day a national statutory holiday.
My bill proposes that June 21 be designated a day to honour and recognize the unique culture and views of first nations, Inuit, and Métis status and non-status peoples and the contributions they have made to our collective society.
As a first nations woman and the member of Parliament for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, I stand in determination not only for the communities in my riding but in solidarity with the first nations, Inuit, and Métis from coast to coast to coast. I also stand with those indigenous youth who are no longer with us.
It is important for this House to recognize that my bill was originally meant to be presented on February 14, but it was pushed back because of the take-note debate on the indigenous experience in Canada's justice system.
The lives and memories of indigenous peoples affect us all, in both profound and simple ways. I would encourage all members to take a moment to reflect on these influences today.
One aim of my bill is to bring a sense of hope to indigenous communities across Canada by creating a day that recognizes their lives, their culture, and their influence. My bill responds to one of the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The commission said:
We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.
It does not get any clearer than that. If we, as partners in reconciliation, want to take the process of reconciliation seriously, it is crucial that the members of this House support my bill. My bill would create a public opportunity to better engage and understand the impacts of critical issues affecting indigenous peoples and settler society. Among these issues are the long-lasting impacts of residential schools, the 60s scoop, child foster care issues, our treaty relationships, and missing and murdered indigenous women.
These are not issues that exist in the past. First nations, Métis, and northern children and youth are hurting. Their families and communities are struggling to secure employment and make ends meet. Families do not have access to services and they become trapped in the cycle of poverty and foster care.
In Saskatchewan alone, 87% of children in foster care are indigenous. We must ask ourselves what our children see. Do indigenous children and youth, girls in particular, see a country that, in both word and deed, champions their intrinsic importance? Do the different levels of government and those in different positions of authority, communicate that their lives are valued?
Let us reflect on these questions as we consider the overrepresentation of indigenous children in foster care, the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and the overrepresentation of first nation, Inuit, and Métis in corrections facilities and prisons.
More than two years ago, the ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal was clear. The Canadian government was guilty of racially discriminating against tens of thousands of first nation children in systematically underfunding federal services. The tribunal's ruling called on the federal government for immediate, medium-, and long-term reforms so that children can receive the treatment they deserve. Children are entitled to feel safe, to be cared for, and to feel and be valued, and they deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.
Now that we see the budget for 2018, we acknowledge the commitment of the government to help indigenous people in Canada. However, funding is only one aspect of the reconciliation project. Canadians also need encouragement towards understanding indigenous history, identity, and nationhood, in tandem with Canadian history.
In order to strengthen the public's awareness and increase support of the nation-to-nation process that is vital to reconciliation, my bill provides an opportunity for all people living in Canada to celebrate, recognize, and honour first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples' diverse historical, cultural, and linguistic contributions.
Passing Bill C-369 allows for a national opportunity, not only to reflect on our history but also to celebrate indigenous culture. My bill would create time for all Canadians to reflect on our treaty relationships and other agreements with indigenous nations. It creates a platform for us all to gather and involve ourselves in the conversation that leads to a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within indigenous communities. Only when we work together can we make progress toward reconciliation. After all, we are stronger when we are together.
My bill is not the first time that National Aboriginal Day has been brought up in the House. National Aboriginal Day was the result of consultations and statements of support made by indigenous groups across the country. In 1982, the National Indian Brotherhood, now known as the Assembly of First Nations, launched a campaign to have National Aboriginal Day recognized as a national holiday. In 1986, June 21 was proclaimed National Aboriginal Day by then Governor General of Canada Roméo LeBlanc.
Those who are paying attention will note that June 21 is also the summer solstice, which holds a special significance to many indigenous peoples in Canada. Now known as National Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21 is recognized as a statutory holiday in the Northwest Territories, and last May it was declared a statutory holiday in Yukon. A similar bill was tabled in the Ontario legislature in September 2017, which was titled “Indigenous Day Act: A Path to Truth and Reconciliation”. My bill is not unprecedented, and its principles have had success in Canada in the past.
The Assembly of First Nations has been pushing for National Indigenous Peoples Day to be recognized federally for years. In fact, in 2016, the AFN passed a resolution at its annual general assembly calling for June 21 to be a statutory holiday.
Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations has supported my motion. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples supported Bill C-369 when it was tabled under its original name. National Chief Robert Bertrand was present at the press conference to voice his support publicly. UFCW Canada has endorsed this bill, and reports that in six collective agreements in four different provinces, National Indigenous Peoples Day is recognized as a paid holiday. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union has endorsed the call for National Indigenous Peoples Day to become a statutory holiday. The Vancouver Aboriginal Child & Family Services Society has expressed the need to make National Indigenous Peoples Day a statutory holiday. We have received numerous letters and calls from Canadians, indigenous and non-indigenous, who are in favour of making June 21 a statutory holiday.
Despite the historical precedent and significant support, I want to speak to some of the criticism I have received about my bill. It is no surprise to members of this House that the nature of our jobs brings criticism from those people who do not believe we are doing our jobs well enough. However, a lot of what I have heard with regard to this bill has been unprofessional, illogical, uncalled for and, plainly put, racist. Being a first nations woman from northern Saskatchewan, I have heard this type of language before, and I will hear it again in the future. Too many indigenous peoples live with this language on a daily basis, and I firmly believe that taking steps toward reconciliation will alleviate at least some of the pain caused by this language.
My bill has also been discussed publicly at the same time as the verdicts in the cases related to Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. While much of the public conversation about Colten and Tina has been filled with love and calls for justice, too much of it has been about hate, misconceptions, biases, and individuals saying that the system worked. This is the language that a settler society uses to continue its oppression of indigenous peoples.
Individuals will always be free to speak their minds, but if the government is committed to changing the conversation with and about indigenous peoples in this country, we need to take steps that will change the spaces in which those conversations take place. My bill is one such step. We as a government cannot change the hearts and minds of Canadians or limit their expression, but what we can do together is change the environment where the process of reconciliation is taking place.
As I have already said, my bill creates a day of reflection and celebration of indigenous history and contributions to our collective society. It takes the extra step of allowing most Canadians a day off work to join our indigenous friends and neighbours in celebrating their cultures and remembering their history. My bill is a necessary step toward changing the public conversation about indigenous people in this country. It is on us as members of this House to make time to do those things.
We all know it is not unprecedented for this House to make time for everyone in Canada to celebrate together. Every year, Canadians gather on July 1 to celebrate the history of our nation, and most people are given the day off to celebrate with their neighbours. Every year, Canadians are given the day off work to celebrate Christmas or to take the day to spend time with their families and celebrate their own religious holidays. We also recognize new beginnings and give Canadians January 1 to think about the new year ahead of them. These days, among others, are days of national celebration.
Further, this House recognizes days of reflection and mourning as part of our national experience. November 11 is our day of remembrance, a day to understand and appreciate those who have served Canada in war, armed conflict, and peace. We also use Labour Day to remember the workers who have suffered in dangerous conditions and enshrined workers' rights as human rights.
In both of these respects, celebration and reflection, my bill fits with the historical precedent of statutory holidays in Canada. Let us not be bogged down by the conversations I have both listened to and been a part of that another statutory holiday is unnecessary and goes too far. Canada is a complex country full of complex peoples and complex ideas. In many ways, we have too much to celebrate and too much to remember, but that should not take away from our national project of reconciliation.
It feels as though the time will never be right for a bill that asks for special recognition of indigenous culture and history, but the government has continuously stated that the most important relationship is the one with indigenous peoples. That same government has committed to answer the calls of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the spirit of healing and truth. It begs the question, when is the right time?
If the burden of reconciliation is too difficult for us to take on as a country, then we must seriously consider our roles as elected leaders in Canada. If reconciliation is too hard for our government to support in full, then we must seriously reconsider our government. Reconciliation was not meant to be a label or a chapter title for a settler government to adopt as a symbol of progress. Reconciliation is not a feel good promise of better days ahead for a colonial society. Reconciliation is not seeing the indigenization of our institutions for the betterment of those who are already in power. First nations, Inuit, and Métis people are tired of waiting for the right time to come along. Indigenous people cannot wait for the next election year to get another empty promise from the government.
I ask that as elected officials we go beyond talking points and formally make June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, a statutory holiday. This would create an opportunity to share, to celebrate, and to open up a dialogue for all people living in Canada to better understand and empathize with first nations, Inuit, and Métis people. I encourage hon. members on all sides to consider this bill to begin building the bridges of understanding between Canada and the first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.