Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be here today to speak to Bill C-5, an act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the MP who brought this bill forward initially, Georgina Jolibois. I am continuously inspired by her work and by her amazing representation of indigenous communities across Canada.
We are here today for many reasons. This bill is really about the reality that on September 30 we celebrate Orange Shirt Day, a national day to recognize truth and reconciliation. We want to take that day and make it into a statutory holiday, one where all members of Canada are committed to being a part of recognizing this part of our history: the stealing of children from their families; the many deaths of indigenous children during these terrible, long, dark times; and the trauma and torture they and their families experienced.
An elder from my riding named Alberta Billy once told me to imagine what would happen to myself and my community if every child from the age of four to 16 were suddenly removed. No one knew who they were with and who was caring for them. That always hits me hard. I cannot imagine any of us thinking about all our precious children, however we know them, being removed from our communities, and the silence and sadness that would hit all of us as we looked around and did not see their beautiful faces.
This day should be a day where Canadians understand the incredible resilience of indigenous communities, because they are still here in the face of such adversity.
Today, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize my husband, Darren Blaney, who is a survivor of residential school. When he was in residential school, his number was 97. When I think about a soul, a human being, identified by a number and losing so much more of their identity, I am absolutely heartbroken.
Many members in this House have spoken about the importance of education in this bill. I want to let people know that as of March 31, 2019, the government had only spent $4.5 million over its four years on education initiatives around indigenous history and residential school. This is simply not sufficient and not strategic, but is another piecemeal approach to this complex and dire situation the country needs to understand more fulsomely.
I want this day to be treated in the future with the sacred solemness it deserves. That means resources so all Canadians can take the moment and the time to remember these beautiful souls and the reality they and their communities are faced with. We want people to remember the story of Phyllis Jack, whose beautiful and sad story gives us Orange Shirt Day. She was six when she went to residential school. Her grandmother bought her a beautiful orange shirt to wear.
Who does not have a memory attached to those first days of school? It is a moment where, as kids, we felt proud, a piece of clothing that tells a child they are loved. As a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or loved one, we sometimes buy a special piece of clothing for the first day of school knowing that in that act, we are sending that child into something new and sometimes scary, with a little bit of love.
In residential school, imagine how much more important this was. Not only were we buying a beautiful piece of clothing for a beloved child. We also knew that child would be leaving their family. They would leave and not understand how long it would be until they got to see their family again.
Imagine being a grandmother and feeling the utter hopelessness and fear of being forced to send a beloved grandchild to residential school, knowing all that grandmother can do is buy a shirt to somehow comfort that small body who will soon be longing for family and home. All too often in the history of Canada and today in Canada, indigenous people, communities and children are dehumanized.
Today there are still just too many children being taken from their homes into care through apprehension. These numbers are even higher than the numbers of children taken from their families to be put in residential schools. This is something that we all must be accountable for as Canadians. We must all understand that we have an obligation. Every time the government does not fulfill the compliance orders that are asked of it, it shows again that the dehumanization of indigenous children is continuing and it is not okay. We must always speak against it, not just in platitudes but in action and in resources so that those communities can begin to rebuild in a more profound and sustainable way.
We know that there are still too many suicides in indigenous communities across Canada. One chief in my riding told me not too long ago, “I am working so hard to build up an economic base of strength for my community so that we can have a future that is positive and something hopeful for our young people, but when I have young people hanging themselves in our community, it is so hard to continue to push and to build. These are the everyday lived experiences of indigenous communities across this country. We cannot pretend that it is not directly linked to colonialism and to the residential school history that this country holds and still does not disclose in a more profound way so that we can all carry this burden, not just indigenous communities.”
We continue to work in our indigenous communities across Canada because of generations of residential school. That is important to recognize. This is generations of residential school, generations of communities that were suddenly empty of every child between the ages of four and 16. What does that do to a people and a community, and how do they rebuild after generations and generations? They only rebuild by resiliency, which indigenous communities have displayed again and again, but they also need the resources to be able to do that.
Parents are still learning how to parent. Traditions are still coming back to our communities and those communities need to be supported to allow parents the time to learn how to parent, build those capacities. A lot of communities across my riding have been asking for support. They want to see things get better in their communities. They see those beautiful pearls of resilience and growth and strength, but they need the resources to invest in them.
When I hear people say again and again, sadly, that it is over, that those days are over, the history is over and indigenous people need to get over it, I am both devastated and angry. It is not over. We are seeing that today in situations in indigenous communities across this country. We are seeing that today with the RCMP not responding appropriately when they should, because they do not know how to do it. We need to do better than that and Canada needs to do better than that. The impacts of residential schools and colonialism are not over; they are resounding through this country every single day.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report stated, “Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.”
The bill is a small step, but it is a step toward all of Canadian society reconsidering, reviewing and looking at things differently. One of the things that I know to be true is that impact and intent can totally be separated. When we look at systemic racism and we look at racism, some people know an intent that they may have, but they do not understand the impact. We must be responsible for our impact, not only our intent.
Today, as we go through the reality, we know that systemic racism continues to be a huge issue and all Canadians have to be responsible for addressing it.
I want to talk about systemic racism because I have people tell me that they do not understand what systemic racism means. We are seeing it right now in the Mi'Kmaq community. The reality is no one should be surprised that this has been the outcome. The fact is that the federal government did not take leadership, did not create a plan and did not create space for this disconnect; it created a space for discontent and violence and for it to continue to grow.
Reconciliation is a Canadian problem, and one that has a long history.
We need a government that will actually pay attention and create a plan so that we do not get to these places where people are incredibly unsafe, where the disruption in the community is profound and the wounds will take a long time to heal. It is unfair that the federal government does not take leadership and instead allows small indigenous communities to face these challenges with few or no resources to address them. That is systemic racism. Not having a plan is systemic racism.
Systemic racism can also look like other things, and this brings me back to the intention and the impact. My son, when he was in grade 5, went to school one day. When he was in class, the teacher brought them to the library and sat the classroom down. The librarian showed a picture of a class of children at a residential school and asked them, “What do you see in this picture?” The indigenous children, all with their hair severely cut, looked very sad. They were all wearing uniforms.
A lot of the children had things to say, like, “Maybe they didn't get their hot lunch” or “Maybe they were planning to go on a trip but they didn't get to, and that is why they are so sad.”
My son talked about sitting in that room, listening to a lot of non-indigenous young people give their ideas. He talked about his pain and frustration as he looked at that picture were because he knew immediately what that was. As he listened to the other children not knowing what it was, it made him realize how alone he was, how so few people understand the history of this country, and how much pressure he felt to have to educate and disclose the reality.
Finally, it burst out of him. He said, “Maybe it is because they are indigenous children in residential school and all they want is to go home to their parents.”
I do not think this teacher had any bad intention. I believe her complete intention was to educate and to show the kids in the class the history of Canada, but she did not think about the impact.
This is so important. I have had a lot of young people talk to me and their parents about Orange Shirt Day, and how that day actually scares them. As indigenous children, as they learn this history, they become fearful that they may be taken from their families. The impact can often be unintended. That is why it is so important, when we address systemic racism, that we begin to ask questions, that we be curious about these issues, and that we stop putting the burden of educating on indigenous families, children and communities.
Years later, when my son moved up to middle school, he was actually able to work with his father on a piece of art for his school to recognize the history of indigenous residential school. This piece of art is still hanging in Southgate Middle School. It was a transformation mask that talked about the intention of residential school to take the Indian out of the child. On the front of it, there is a white face that opens up and shows an indigenous face. My son was very proud when they brought it to the school. It gave him the ability to talk about the history that was a reality for him every day in his life.
It is important, as this bill says, to dedicate a day to recognize the amazing power and resilience of the first people of this land. I want to make sure that this is really recognized as a part of this day. My granny went to Lejac Residential School in British Columbia for the majority of her childhood.
She was a fierce woman who I admired greatly and was slightly terrified of. I never once in my life saw her in a pair of pants. Even in the coldest parts of winter, she was always done up, wearing a dress, her hair and face made up, and often wearing a fabulous hairpiece, which she was known for.
She used to tell me, frequently, “No complaining, Rachel, we are still here. If you don't like it, work on fixing it.” It took me years to understand that she was teaching me the power of indigenous people across country, We are still here, and the guilt of non-indigenous people and what they feel is really not helpful.
In the face of colonial history, including initial contact, there has been smallpox, residential school, racism, systemic racism, child apprehension and constant interference, at all levels of government, in indigenous communities and their ability to create economic development. In the continuous face of all these challenges, generation after generation, indigenous people are still here, still fighting and still finding a way to hold on to their traditions and their history. They are still here.
When I think of Orange Shirt Day, I think of my granny who survived tremendous challenges, and of my dad and my aunties and uncles who have worked so hard to reclaim our culture and our history and make sure that her grandchildren have had that connection.
This bill would help acknowledge, for one day, the history of this country and the current reality of this history. There is so much work to be done. I hope that all members in the House and all Canadians understand that we must all be part of working toward that. This is one step. It is not enough, but it is a step, and in all the steps that we take we continue to move forward. This bill moved through the House before, in the last Parliament, and it died in the Senate. I certainly hope that does not happen again.
In closing, there have been conversations among the parties and if you seek it, I hope you will find unanimous consent for the following motion: That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders this day or when no members rise to speak, whichever comes first, Bill C-5, an act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, shall be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole; deemed considered in committee of the whole; deemed reported, without amendment; deemed concurred in at report stage; and deemed read a third time and passed.