Mr. Speaker, I will begin my speech by acknowledging that the land on which we are gathered today to speak to the important bill introduced by colleague from Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River is part of the traditional unceded territory of the Anishinabe Algonquin people.
I think it is especially important to point that out because, from a reconciliation perspective, I want every elected member of the House to remember that historical fact during this evening's debate.
Call to action 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada states:
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 is in this context that my colleague introduced her bill to make National Indigenous Peoples Day a statutory holiday in Canada. As everyone is well aware, there are currently no federal statutory holidays dedicated to indigenous peoples. National Indigenous Peoples Day does exist and has been celebrated on June 21 since 1996, but it is not recognized as a statutory holiday under the Canada Labour Code.
Bill C-369 calls on the federal Parliament to show some leadership and set an example for the provincial and territorial governments that have not yet created this statutory holiday, in response to the call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Reconciliation is not an indigenous issue, it is a Canadian issue. To achieve true reconciliation, we may be called upon to re-examine all aspects of Canadian society.
That is why the commission is calling on all levels of government in Canada to take concerted action and measures across the entire country and in all communities in the interest of reconciliation with first nations, Métis and Inuit.
To achieve that goal, merely recognizing the existence of these peoples is not enough. We must also recognize their history, their rights, their cultures and their languages.
By passing Bill C-369, the House of Commons would be sending a clear message about its intention to create space for reconciliation.
Once established, this national holiday would serve as a reminder to us all of what it really means to have a treaty-based nation-to-nation relationship. It would be an expression of respect for the historic and cultural importance of first nations, Métis and Inuit.
The people we wish to recognize by creating this statutory holiday are the first inhabitants of this continent, who arrived when the glaciers disappeared from these lands.
When the first French settlers arrived, indigenous people helped them survive by showing them how to adapt to the environment and the harsh climate, which was unfamiliar to the first Europeans to set foot in North America.
Of course, the bill would not tackle all the socio-economic problems faced by indigenous people, which my party raises all the time in the House.
In passing, I would like to mention the atrocious and intolerable living conditions found in too many indigenous communities throughout the territory that we now call Canada. The federal government continues to drag its feet. We need a targeted housing strategy for indigenous people.
Naturally, the creation of a holiday must be accompanied by significant action to improve living conditions for indigenous peoples in Canada. However, dedicating a holiday to indigenous peoples would provide a time and space for reflection on our colonial history and its lasting effects on the rights of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples across Canada.
For example, this holiday could become an opportunity to organize events to commemorate and raise awareness about victims of residential schools and Canada's colonial system, the effects of which still weigh heavily on indigenous peoples today.
My colleague's bill is not a new idea. 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.
It was not until 1996 that June 21 was proclaimed National Aboriginal Day by then governor general Roméo LeBlanc.
This date was chosen after consultations with indigenous peoples and statements of support from numerous groups, some of which wanted the summer solstice to become National Aboriginal Day.
When my colleague originally introduced this bill, she also asked that National Aboriginal Day, June 21, be designated a federal statutory holiday.
At the time, the national day for truth and reconciliation was not clearly defined. Since 2016, Orange Shirt Day has become the appropriate day to commemorate the legacy of residential schools and honour their survivors. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which was in charge of studying Bill C-369, consulted first nations, Inuit and Métis, and they all agreed that September 30 should be considered the day of commemoration. The bill was amended to designate that date as the national day for truth and reconciliation.
As I said earlier, other governments in Canada have responded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action 80 by making National Indigenous Peoples Day a statutory holiday. It is a statutory holiday in the Northwest Territories and has been a holiday in Yukon since May 2017.
In June 2017, my colleague from Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River introduced the bill we are debating today to get the federal government on board. In September 2017, provincial NDP MPP Michael Mantha introduced a bill in the Ontario legislature entitled An Act to proclaim Indigenous Day and make it a holiday.
The federal government has stated many times that its most important relationship is its relationship with indigenous peoples. The government also committed to responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action in a spirit of reconciliation and healing. Elected officials in other governments get it. This bill gives the government another opportunity to move from words to action.
Inspired by the commission's call to action 80, this bill would give hope to indigenous peoples by fostering awareness of the consequences of residential schools and paying tribute to residential school survivors and victims of foster family abuse, as well as their families and their communities.
In addition, a statutory holiday would give Canadians an opportunity to better understand and acknowledge our shared history, which is a crucial component of reconciliation. This bill gives the federal government, as well as the House of Commons, a chance to participate in the reconciliation process by designating a day to reflect on our dark colonial past and to pay tribute to the contributions, heritage, and diverse cultures and languages of indigenous peoples.
Long before the environment became a topical issue, indigenous people respected the environment and took a sustainable management approach. They developed democratic political and social systems. They understood the importance of forging alliances, and their diplomatic structure played an important role in the early days of settlement. We also have a lot to learn from their customs, including sharing and showing profound respect for elders. Many prominent indigenous figures and indigenous-led projects have helped give them a voice and earn recognition for indigenous contributions, heritage and cultures.
Kondiaronk, also known as Sastaretsi, sacrificed his life to help put an end to devastating wars by signing the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701. In Quebec, Wapikoni Mobile helps young people and gives them a voice. That is how Anishnabe rapper Samian found fame. Cindy Blackstock advocates on behalf of indigenous children who have been abandoned by the Canadian government. Melissa Mollen Dupuis, an Innu from the North Shore who co-founded the Quebec chapter of the Idle No More movement, advocates for environmental protection and for access to education, health care and adequate housing.
New Democrats are not the only ones who support the creation of a statutory holiday to recognize indigenous peoples. The Assembly of First Nations has been calling for this for years. Bobby Cameron, the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, has supported this measure since 2017. Robert Bertrand, the national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, has also publicly expressed support.
I would like to conclude my speech by reading an excerpt from the farewell message of our friend Paul Dewar, who was taken from us too soon. At Paul's celebration of life, indigenous leader Claudette Commanda talked about how Paul had been given an eagle feather, which represents honesty, integrity and authenticity, and she thanked him for what he had done for her people.
Ottawa, don’t stop now. Let’s show our strength together. Let’s embrace the vision of Algonquin elder William Commanda for an authentic and organic future, rooted in the wisdom of the Indigenous people upon whose land we reside.