Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.
I am really very happy to have the opportunity to speak to this motion, which my excellent colleague from Manicouagan has had the courage to introduce in the House today. I would like to thank him for that.
I also thank him for his dignity and moral strength. He is doing exceptional work. Often, when I spend time with him, I realize what a force of nature he is. And when he gets together with my colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona, we suddenly find ourselves in the presence of a revolutionary force. To them both: nia :wen.
The subject before us today is a painful and shameful one. Talking about the living conditions of aboriginal people without starting to hurl insults at a lot of people calls for effort. As well, spending an entire day contemplating my share of guilt in the slow destruction of an entire civilization, because that is what we are really talking about, is difficult, very difficult.
Here is a list of the other emotions I have felt today: guilt, sorrow, shame, and, at times, rage. The way that aboriginal people are treated in this country is dishonourable. I am not saying “bad”, I am saying “dishonourable”. We are forced to admit to ourselves the extent to which we deceive ourselves. In this country, which is so proud of itself, which spends its time announcing its greatness of spirit and its greatness in general from the rooftops, there is apartheid. We quite simply accept that aboriginal children do not have access to the same hopes as other children. We resign ourselves to the fact that the lot of aboriginal children is inequality, poverty and cultural assimilation. Would we accept this for our own children?
The mere fact that we have to discuss an initiative like Shannen's dream is appalling. Aboriginal children do not have access to the same Canada as other children have. It seems very clear to me that aboriginal people do not live in the same Canada as we live in. They are alienated in their own country, the country that belongs to them even more than to us.
Need I say that I am outraged? More than just outraged, I am humiliated. The fate of the aboriginal nations is emblematic of what is wrong with Canada. It is a defect, and everyone knows that we do everything we can to conceal it from the outside world. I am ashamed. What we are debating tonight is the worst stain that has ever sullied Canada’s name. No one anywhere in this country can escape it: it is congenital.
As a Quebecker, I am particularly sensitive to the leftover colonialism in Canadian society. Quebec had to fight hard to extract itself from the damaging influence of its history. In the wake of the conquest, the defeated nation lost its way in darkness. It took over 200 years for us to pick ourselves up and regain our self-esteem. I refer to the history of Quebec because there is a clear parallel between the first nations and Quebeckers. New France, defeated militarily, was destined to disappear completely and become British. The Canadians who had built it became, unceremoniously, British subjects. To add insult to injury, they were made to think of themselves as a underclass. They were no longer Canadians, they were French-Canadians. The British, however, were simply Canadians.
The aboriginal nations, which signed land treaties that were never even remotely respected, quickly understood by means of silence and isolation, that they were being relegated to the dustbin of history. And by that, I mean the sad story of reserves and the forced assimilation of aboriginal nations. For the aboriginal people, it was very clear that Canada was largely built on trickery. And still today, this trickery continues unopposed.
The Romanians, who also have a history of upheaval and whose country was under foreign control for some time, have a good expression, “kiss the hand you cannot bite”.
You may say that modern Canada has nothing to do with the Ottoman administration of the 19th century. But is that really true?
Canada is a land conquered by force and trickery. The Indian Act is a colonial document imposed by a conqueror. It is we who are responsible for the inequality aboriginal people face. The day will come when we will have to sit down with the aboriginal people as equals and listen to what they are trying to tell us. In the meantime, we cover our ears, look elsewhere, and merely confirm our guilt. It is our fault. I refuse to praise a colonial system that, like a diabolical machine, creates and perpetuates the problem.
What I mean in drawing this parallel is that Quebec needed all its strength and a stable, prosperous government to establish itself as a modern society. What chance do the aboriginal nations have, deprived of their natural resources and reduced to political trusteeship, when they have to ask everything of the department that is in charge of them? We know where that leads: no books in the schools—and Attawapiskat. The Indian Act is not the most intelligent document I have laid eyes on.
What link is there between the Constitution and Shannen's dream? There is a direct link. Constitutional apartheid is the reason why there are no books in aboriginal schools. When you take everything away from someone you cannot seriously expect there to be miraculous economic spinoffs. Enough is enough. Where would Canada be without its natural and human resources? Where would Quebec be without its great rivers and its hydroelectricity?
Neither one would have the standard of living it has now. But are these truly our resources or have we simply taken them from the aboriginal nations? The Supreme Court will decide that, someday. While we wait for that, aboriginal children must continue to dream about the possibility of a dream. While we wait for that, there must be initiatives like Shannen's dream to remind us that some children do not have access to the education that is their inalienable right.
What have you given back to the civilization that welcomed you and gave you a country? The question itself has become a platitude, as is the answer. Nothing, except humiliation, poverty, contempt and racism. When did you last hear someone speak an aboriginal language? It took every effort to have French, the 14th most commonly spoken language in the world, accepted in this country. What chance can these minuscule aboriginal languages have? We are throwing a cultural treasure overboard, one that is more important than all the grand shows put on for Canada Day.
Protecting aboriginal languages should be a priority. We should at least have a plan. Instead, to strengthen Canadian culture, we print posters of flags that end up in the garbage and we celebrate British royalty with great pomp and circumstance. One need not have tremendous insight to conclude that essentially, we do not care the slightest bit about the disappearance of the millennium-old civilization in this country.
Quebeckers in particular should be sensitive to the threat. Loss of language is something that normally resonates for us. But in many people’s minds, aboriginal languages are antiques that are good only for family outings to the museum. We have to fight against this negligence and these prejudices.
The aboriginal part of our culture is systematically excised from public awareness. Where will you go in Quebec if you want to learn an aboriginal language? To which university? There are no post-secondary programs in an aboriginal language, not as a second language, let alone as a first language; not in Mohawk, not in Algonquin, not in Atikamekw, not in Innu. Nothing at all. Aboriginal means “from that land”. If we do not promote these languages in Canada, who will do it, and where?
In my riding, Louis-Saint-Laurent, there is a project underway to revitalize the Huron language. This is an initiative that I support and encourage. In order for the Huron nation to truly prosper, it must get its language back; that seems logical to me. To free itself from the yoke of history, it must have its own words and its own language. Quebec has learned this.
Wendake is a very prosperous urban community. The people who live there have access to institutions in Quebec City. Unfortunately, its residents have never had access to education in their own language, and the result is that they have suffered irreparable harm. Thanks to the efforts of extraordinary people in Wendake, the Huron language will be revived.
But the remote reserves do not have books in the schools, and teaching takes place in unsanitary facilities. Why, still today, do aboriginal schools not have enough books and resources to pass the language on to the children? We are talking about human rights here, but we have become completely insensitive.
We delude ourselves when we sing aloud about how Canada is the most beautiful and greatest country in the world. Those ditties, all of that, are hollow. The problem is not going to be solved by encouraging everybody to hang the maple leaf on the garden shed. The maple leaf flag, which had its anniversary yesterday, does not represent aboriginal people. Canada does not exist for them; it exists only for us. The aboriginal people do not live in the same country as we do. They live in a kind of legal grey area: a constitutional limbo.
Can we really ignore our sense of morality? Apparently we can; we have become expert at it, since this has lasted 150 years now. How many times have I heard people say the Indians have everything they need. That is racism and resentment. Where is the awareness campaign that might combat these hateful prejudices? Where is the reconciliation effort? Nowhere. Are we going to continue down this path even longer? It would seem we are. Achieving Shannen's dream would itself be a step in the right direction. Failing to achieve it would be to condemn us all. The aboriginal nations’ affliction is all Canadians’ affliction. If we do not save everyone, we save no one.
The aboriginal population of Canada is now growing faster than all other ethnic groups. I see historical justice in this. The aboriginal people may end up becoming a majority in their own country again; we will have been merely an episode in history. We will be asking them to fund our schools, and we will see how they reply.