[Witness speaks in Ojibwe]
My name is Jessica Bolduc, and I am Anishinabe, from the Bear Clan of the Batchewana First Nation. I'm grateful to be here as a guest on unceded Algonquin territory, and I want to begin by giving thanks to the Algonquin people for their continued presence and stewardship of this land.
Madam Chair, members of the committee, meegwetch for inviting me to be here today to share on behalf of the 4Rs Youth Movement. I send my gratitude to Mr. Saganash for his leadership, alongside many others, in putting this bill forward. I had the pleasure of meeting Maïtée, who is doing work around indigenous youth voices. She has a beautiful fierceness that I'm sure she gets from you.
The 4Rs Youth Movement has evolved over the past four years as a youth-led collaborative seeking to change the country now known as Canada by changing the relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous youth. 4Rs started with honest conversation about Canadian identity. It shaped our vision and our mission, and was followed by a reflection of the values that were necessary to do this change-making work with integrity, via respect, reciprocity, reconciliation, and relevance—the 4Rs. We believe that a relationship-based approach to social change will enable youth to formulate strategies for reconciliation that rebuilds Canada for both present and future generations. Thinking about reconciliation broadly, this means confronting an incredibly difficult history, one that continues to be lived daily and impacts our individual and collective experiences as indigenous peoples.
For 4Rs, adopting UNDRIP is about putting in motion the Canadian framework for reconciliation that must centre the needs, voices, and perspectives of indigenous peoples, communities, and nations in the process of talking about and working toward reconciliation.
As young people in this moment of our history, I understand that we'll be the generation leading the implementation of the TRC calls to action. I, and the young people I work with, are taking this responsibility seriously. Reconciliation to 4Rs is first about developing deep, authentic relationships across individuals, cultures, and geographies as a foundation from which systems change and new paradigms and actions will emerge.
Truthfully, though, these past few months have eroded my belief in Canada's reconciliation process. I'm not alone in this sentiment. Indigenous young people are speaking out about the reconciliation rhetoric that lulls us into a false sense of progress, but does little to enact real change. How is reconciliation possible when indigenous youth like Colten Boushie are treated without human dignity and decisions are made that tell our people that justice in Canada is not for us?
Last week, Jade Tootoosis, Colten's cousin, spoke powerfully at the international table calling for the United Nations to undertake a study of systemic racism against indigenous people in Canada's judicial and legal systems. She said:
The Canadian justice system has failed Colten, our community, and indigenous people in ways that impede our human rights. We deserve better. My brother Colten deserves better.
We do deserve better.
4Rs is led by indigenous young people, young people who are not unlike Colten, from our staff to our governance. We are supported by a network of settler youth and adult allies, because change requires working across cultures and across generations. When it comes to reconciliation, investments are needed in indigenous youth and communities so we can enter reconciliation processes in wholeness and on our own terms. This involves investing in indigenous youth to find strength and pride and identity. It requires centring and restoring indigenous languages and knowledge before, and at the same time as, we seed reconciliation. It requires that we look to break the cycle of systemic racism that Canada's social, political, and legal systems uphold. When lands and waters are under threat from development and pollution, we don't have a healthy environment for our shared work. Any consideration of reconciliation must also take into account the well-being of the earth.
Where Bill C-262 has the potential to impact 4Rs' work the most is in the interconnected pieces of UNDRIP that relate to the reclamation of indigenous identity through language, culture, and connection to land—articles 13, 24, and 31—helping to transform intergenerational trauma into intergenerational resilience and healing.
On January 21 and January 22, 2018, 70 first nations, Métis, and Inuit youth between the ages of 13 and 26 from every province and territory across the country gathered in Ottawa for the Hope Forum, a national gathering of indigenous youth leaders on healing and life promotion hosted by the organization We Matter.
I attended day two of the forum, a national round table discussion organized in response to the current mental health and suicide realities of indigenous youth in communities. The live broadcast of the round table was seen by 16,000 people, and the recorded video by 58,000 people. From there, a number of calls to action were put forward calling on all sectors of government and key influencers in the community to take action. All of the calls these young people put forward fit within the guidelines of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, specifically relating to article 24, implementation of which is very important for indigenous youth.
Bill C-262 will make the recommendations of these indigenous youth undeniable. Recognizing on-the-land and cultural activities is a key aspect of indigenous mental health, wellness, and suicide prevention. Bill C-262, to me, is about furthering healing. It is about equity and restoration, as well as the preservation and survival of indigeneity, which is unique to the experiences and diversity of first nations, Métis, and Inuit youth.
Interpreting Canada's constitution, consistent with the declaration as proposed through Bill C-262, is a crucial step in implementing this reconciliation framework. It restores my hope that we can return to a process of reconciliation with integrity and mutual accountability. But in order to have integrity and be accountable, Bill C-262 requires Canada to build readiness, to do your work first to understand your role and responsibilities, and to work with respect, care, and collaboration with indigenous people, and then to set in motion a national plan of action.
This means that we all have a part to play, as individuals, families, leaders, organizations, institutions, communities, and all levels of government. I once heard an Anishinabe elder, Jim Dumont, say that language is the voice of the culture and culture is the strength of the language. This resonates with me because it demonstrates that the rights contained in UNDRIP are interconnected and interrelated, and therefore must be interpreted with the same holistic understanding and not be impacted by the constitutional division of powers between levels of federal and provincial governments, which tempt us to look at implementation in isolation.
However, implementation is not going to be easy, not because of the complexity of what is ahead of us, but because of fear. It's fear of the unknown; of getting things wrong; of having to share power, privilege, and resources; of hurting more people; and fears that limit Canada's ability to imagine a future with UNDRIP fully implemented. If we lead with fear, it will no doubt become embedded in the implementation of UNDRIP, eroding what is possible; destroying what is being borne; seeing history, yet again, repeat itself when it comes to upholding indigenous rights. Canada has to believe that UNDRIP is possible and embrace the discomfort and uncertainty that goes along with being in a relationship with indigenous peoples that is fundamentally different. It's not what we do that matters, but how we do it that will create the most change.
In that spirit I will begin to wrap up with some recommendations on the “how” for those of you who will be taking the next steps on Bill C-262.
Share a meal together. Get to know each other's stories, your hopes and dreams, but do it in the company of food.
Impart a relationship-based approach to implementation, not a top-down, isolated process that is removed from purpose and community.
Make this personal, if it isn't already.
Lead from a place of respect and caring and name your fears so that they can be worked on together and not left to fester.
Don't build fear and limiting beliefs into your implementation plan, making this inherently adversarial. Instead, lead with intention, hope, and possibility.
Acknowledge what you don't know. Reconciliation is a process of learning and unlearning. Ensure that all public servants working on Bill C-262 are educated in indigenous issues and policy, have undergone cultural competency training, and better yet, have lived experience—meaning, hire indigenous people.
Nothing about us, without us. Co-create with indigenous youth. Hire them as researchers, policy developers, negotiators, or lawyers. A whole mass of visionaries is waiting to be invited to be a part of the process and hold the solutions to the challenges that await you.
Be intentional about the inclusion of two-spirited, LGBTQ+ indigenous people. Explicitly state this in Bill C-262 and ensure that resources are allocated toward ensuring that their voices are heard and acted on.
Think and work in systems.
I have two more.
Take an ecosystem approach to implementing the national action plan. Bring systems change leaders into the conversation to help break down silos. Make your process transparent, inclusive, and accessible.
If my grandma, as an individual rights holder, cannot activate UNDRIP, then Bill C-262 is not adequate.
Take careful steps, but don't waste time. Individual rights holders must feel the impacts of implementation alongside the systemic and legal changes that are required. We cannot afford to lose any more indigenous lives.