Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my friend from Cloverdale—Langley City for bringing the legislation to the House of Commons. The member and I both sat on the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. For the past three months we studied heritage issues. Our final report from that committee was recently tabled in the House.
The committee found many concerns, including a lack of attention paid to Canada's archeological sites, limited support for the owners of heritage buildings, inconsistencies with how the federal government protected the heritage buildings it owned, and critically, there was currently no federal legislation to protect UNESCO World Heritage sites in Canada.
Of all the witness testimony we heard, perhaps the most surprising and certainly the most moving came from representatives of indigenous groups.
Mr. Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, told the committee about the neglected legacy of Canada's residential school system. He told us we did not have a program for preserving the residential schools. Nor had we considered how to commemorate the schools that still stood or the ones that had been torn down.
In my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, the St. Eugene Mission School in Cranbrook was transformed by the Ktunaxa Nation into a successful hotel, casino, and golf course resort. However, it also contains photos from its days as a residential school, and Ktunaxa guides provide tours to keep the history alive. As Mr. Moran told the committee, St. Eugene was a rare exception. In fact, while the federal government offered funding to tear down residential schools, it offered nothing to commemorate them.
Mr. Moran also told us about the residential schools graveyards. As we know, thousands of the children forced into the schools never returned home, and their whereabouts are unknown to this day. The schools buried many of those children, and there are at least 400 cemetery locations across the country. Many of them are forgotten and neglected.
It may surprise members in the House to learn that when I was a young child, my brother Greg and I attended a residential school in Chesterfield Inlet, about 500 kilometres north of Churchill on Hudson's Bay. The residential school and the Hudson's Bay store were located on one side of the inlet and our home was located on the other. We were able to go home every night, but my classmates, as young as five years old, did not. They were allowed to go home at Christmas and in the summertime. Even as a young child, I knew that not being able to go home when one was only five years old was wrong.
My sympathy for those kids back then extends to my heartfelt feelings today. We must commemorate the residential schools so we never forget a past that must never be repeated.
The committee also heard from two representatives of the Indigenous Heritage Circle, Ms. Karen Aird, the president; and Ms. Madeleine Redfern, a director. They pointed out something of which I do not believe the committee members were aware. Many of us consider heritage to refer to things like buildings and sites, but indigenous heritage may include intangibles, like laws, stories, and oral histories. It may mean a sacred place, or certain artifacts.
When we met with one of the chiefs in Jasper, he said something that really stayed with me. He said that the good Lord did not give them the written language, so their story was written on the land and that they could still find it today.
Ms. Aird said:
We feel that in this time, this time of reconciliation, this time when we see a new change in government, there's a need for people to start thinking differently about heritage, and moving it beyond built heritage, and thinking about how indigenous people perceive it and how we want to protect it. We do have our own mechanisms. We do have our own methods and approaches to protecting and interpreting heritage, and we feel it's really time now for indigenous people to have a voice in this.
Canadians saw an example of the lack of understanding of indigenous heritage and spirituality recently when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Jumbo Glacier in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia would not be protected from the development of a large ski resort. Jumbo Glacier is also known as Qat'muk and it is a sacred place to the Ktunaxa Nation, which knows it as the home to the Grizzly Bear Spirit. The Court ruled that a specific site or “object of beliefs" could not be protected. As a result, this important spiritual place, where the Grizzly Bear Spirit has been honoured for hundreds or even thousands of years by the Ktunaxa, is now at risk of being destroyed.
How can we solve these issues? What changes must we make, both to our thinking and to our procedures?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission offered some solutions in its calls to action.
Mr. Moran said:
Central within those calls to action are a number of calls related directly to commemoration. Those commemoration calls relate directly to the creation or establishment of a “national memory” and our ongoing need as a country to make sure we continue to shine light into the darkest corners of our history.
Call to action 79 states:
We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal organizations, and the arts community, to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration. This would include, but not be limited to:
i. Amending the Historic Sites and Monuments Act to include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and its Secretariat.
This is exactly what is accomplished by Bill C-374. It goes on to state:
ii. Revising the policies, criteria, and practices of the National Program of Historical Commemoration to integrate Indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices into Canada’s national heritage and history.
iii. Developing and implementing a national heritage plan and strategy for commemorating residential school sites, the history and legacy of residential schools, and the contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canada’s history.
Bill C-374 responds directly to call to action 79.i. The bill would increase the number of members of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, and it would provide dedicated spaces for first nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives on the board. It would also provide the necessary financial accommodation for the additional members.
We know the bill does not address all of the sections of call to action 79, but it begins in the right place, which is ensuring there is representation on the board, so that decisions about indigenous heritage include indigenous decision-makers.
When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission first released its report in June 2015, the NDP leader at the time said, “Today, our country is trying to turn the page on the many dark years and to move forward toward a better future for all peoples.” We have the opportunity to take one step forward toward honouring the actions listed by the commission, and in doing so, we honour the past and those who suffered under this terrible past called the residential school system.
I am proud to support Bill C-374,, and have the NDP members in the House joining me in that support.
I would also like to take the opportunity to wish a merry Christmas to all those in the House who celebrate, as well as those back home in Kootenay—Columbia and across Canada.
Best wishes to all for a happy holiday season.