Madam Speaker, I rise in the House with a heavy heart and with mixed feelings. While I am very proud to sit in the House, I am also aware of the House and its history, one which has been terrible at times for many of my people. It has made decisions that were not to the benefit of all Canadians.
I think of our first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, God bless his soul, who imprisoned indigenous peoples, stole our children, and stole our languages. There was Mackenzie King, who imprisoned Japanese Canadians.
This House, though, has made many great decisions, like giving the vote to women. In the living memory of my indigenous relatives, it has made them citizens of this country. It started tearing down the abuses of the Indian Act.
The decisions of this House will affect each and every one of us today and into the future.
There has been much history made with the election of this Parliament. For instance, November 16, the day I chose for my swearing-in ceremony, is an infamous day. Over 130 years ago, Louis Riel was hanged for his values. He was killed by the Canadian government while he was fighting for justice and against the trampling of the human rights of his people, the indigenous people of the northwest. My ancestors fought and died with Riel, and with Gabriel Dumont, the Métis general.
In 1869, 1871, and 1885, we suffered at Red Pheasant First Nation, where my people are from, with the largest mass hanging in Canadian history. There were ten men from our community. My great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Ouellette, died at the Battle of Batoche at 93 years old, yelling out the word “justice”.
Riel is a father of Confederation. I am very proud, and it is an emotional moment to have the opportunity to stand in the people's House. Riel was elected three times to this chamber but was never able to take his seat, upon pain of death. For my family and my people, it is a symbolic and literal closing of a moment in Canadian history.
I would like to acknowledge that we are here on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people. I will even go further.
We are here on unceded, traditional Algonquin territory. It is a meeting place for all Algonquin, Iroquois, Huron and Cree peoples, it is the land of the Métis, but it is also the national capital of all Canadians and of all those who come from all over the world.
I am very pleased with the Speech from the Throne, but I hope it will go further.
I have heard parties talk and talk about the middle class, and I thought I would tell the House about the needs of my riding, my community, Winnipeg Centre. It is the poorest in the country. Last month, 63,000 people used Winnipeg Harvest, and most of those people live in Winnipeg Centre. Of the people in Winnipeg Centre who used Winnipeg Harvest, 42% are children. They are our most vulnerable. The people of my riding have been ignored for far too long, and we are not complaining with our bellies full.
There are those in the House who might blame the poor, ignore them, or tell them they have not worked hard enough, that it is their fault they have not succeeded in life. Last year, while participating in the CEO Sleepout for homelessness in Winnipeg, I came across a young man, 18 years old. He had been in 77 different foster families throughout his life. Is anyone here going to say that is justice in our country? Is that a country with human rights? Is that gentleman going to be successful in his life? Will he feel loved?
Some might say that child and family services is not a federal responsibility, but under section 35 of the Constitution, it certainly is. First nations people are a federal responsibility, and we should never shirk that responsibility.
By the age of 15, 24% of all first nations children in Manitoba will have been in the care of the state. Eighty-nine per cent of all children in Manitoba are not taken into the care of the state because of abuse, but because of negligence, the inability of parents to provide good housing and good food for their children. These are issues related to poverty. There are 11,000 children in the care of the state in Manitoba, and 8,000 of those children are first nations. If Ontario had the same numbers, it would be over 140,000 children.
In Quebec, that same percentage would translate into 90,000 children being in foster care, as wards of the state.
Of the 11,000 children in the care of the state in Manitoba, only 11% have allegations of abuse and of that, only 11% were actually substantiated abuse.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has just finished looking at the issues surrounding residential schools, yet we continue to maintain such a system today, day after day, through our own ignorance and through our own lack of understanding of what is really going on in this country.
We make decisions in this House. We make decisions that are important. A mother in my riding is looking after her three children in a rooming house, a one-bedroom apartment that is smaller than the office that I have on this Hill. When I was canvassing during the election, I walked up to the second floor and there was a man sniffing gas in the apartment above. What is going to be the future of those three young children? Who will be their role models? Who will be mentors in their lives? This I do not know because I do not know if we have the ability to find solutions in the way we conduct our affairs in the House, if we will be able to help those people. How do we break that negative cycle?
My riding is composed of 20% indigenous people and 20% Filipino people who have issues with language skills. When they become Canadian citizens, they cannot see if they will have access to the training that they require in order to get past their survival jobs. They are important. There are 4% of Muslim people in my riding. For too long now, they have been demonized and ask me when will it stop.
The dream that is in Canada is unrealized. While we listen to each other in the House concerning the rhetoric about securing a future through hard work and through education, that path to success is slipping through the fingers of many of our fellow citizens. There was a time when a strong back and strong arms could support a family.
I met a young aboriginal man named John. He is a good person who lives downtown in my riding and he wants to do well, but he has never had anyone in his life say “I believe in you”. John is a big guy. He is dark. He has been in prison. He has had addiction issues, but today he has a partner, kids, and goes to post-secondary school, but it seems that is not enough. He asked me why the police always stop him, why he feels that others are afraid of him when he walks down the street. If John is listening to me, I know he will succeed. I know he can do it. I believe in him.
We must be collectively tired of being fearful of others. I will no longer have fear. I will no longer be afraid. I hope we will make decisions in the House that are based on our intelligence and not listen to the fearmongering that is far too prevalent in our society. The obligation that we have to each other is deeper and higher in our roles as parliamentarians. It is moral. It is an issue of social justice.
As members of Parliament, we should be able to look back in 20 or 30 years' time and say the actions we took in this chamber were important and this was a turning point because the people we represent in our individual ridings across Canada, this is not just their future, it is our future, the future of our communities, our country, our nation, and the world.