Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by acknowledging that I am on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
I think we can all agree on the importance of acknowledging the history and legacy of residential schools and their tragic impact on first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. It is my hope that Bill C-5 will receive the support of all members of the House.
The last residential school closed its doors in 1996, just 24 years ago. This is not ancient history. The number of survivors is great, the victims and their families greater. The healing process will take time, and this bill is a step toward righting the wrongs inflicted throughout our colonial past.
September is a painful time for many indigenous peoples. It was the month that their children were taken back to school year after year and forced to leave their loved ones and communities behind. It is appropriate to mark this pain experienced by generations of indigenous children, parents, families and communities, a pain that continues to be passed on today in the form of intergenerational trauma, with a solemn day of reflection, remembrance and action toward reconciliation. It is a day to honour residential school survivors and their families and to learn about their stories.
On September 29, the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action number 80, which seeks to establish, as a federal statutory holiday, a national day for truth and reconciliation. This day will honour survivors, their families and their communities while ensuring that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.
This bill seeks to establish a national day for truth and reconciliation that will be observed on September 30. As members may know, this is a particularly significantly date for indigenous peoples. It is the date of a grassroots movement called Orange Shirt Day, started by Phyllis Webstad, named for the orange shirt that she and her grandmother chose for her first day of residential school, only to have it stolen away when she arrived. Her orange shirt has become a symbol for the cultures, languages and childhoods that were ripped away from the more than 150,000 students of residential schools.
Every year on Orange Shirt Day, we encourage Canadians to take time to listen to the stories of survivors, learn about residential schools and come together to give hope to every child of current and future generations. This day would further spread these stories of pain and hope.
This year, on September 30, I walked by a school in my riding during lunch hour and on the playground I saw a sea of orange. Students had all come to school wearing orange shirts and, more importantly, were learning the legacy of residential schools. This is something that did not happen when I was their age or even when my son was in school.
The work of preserving these stories and educating Canadians about the horrors perpetrated at residential schools is extremely difficult and painful. That is why I would like to praise the work done by the amazing people at the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ontario. Opened in 1972, the centre aims to preserve, present, create and educate people on the history, art, language and culture of the Haudenosaunee people of the Eastern Woodlands. It was established at the site of the Mohawk Institute residential school, the oldest residential school in Canada, which was operated from 1829 through 1970. It was nicknamed the Mush Hole by its students, as the children were fed only oatmeal three times a day, every day.
With its museum, art galleries, library and language centre, I encourage anyone able to visit the Woodland Cultural Centre for a unique and sobering learning experience to do so. It will be offering a virtual public tour on November 18 at 7 p.m. More information can be found at woodlandculturalcentre.ca.
Earlier this year, I attended a performance of The Mush Hole at The Burlington Performing Arts Centre. Telling the terrible story of what happened at the Mohawk Institute through dance and theatre, The Mush Hole is based on interviews and writings by residential school survivors. It explores not only what happened at the Mush Hole, but the intergenerational trauma experienced by the survivors and their families.
To further preserve and spread the history of residential schools, the Portage la Prairie residential school in Manitoba and the Shubenacadie residential school in Nova Scotia are being declared national historic sites this year. It is my hope that the Woodland Cultural Centre will also be declared a national historic site.
The residential school system is a national tragedy, a stain of colonialism upheld by systemic racism. Acknowledging its past and educating Canadians about the experience of indigenous children in these schools will ensure that this history is never forgotten and never repeated. It is a step toward righting past wrongs.
The introduction of Bill C-5 is a step forward in the healing process of survivors and their families who were harmed under this federally operated system. Once this bill has passed, the residential school system would be designated as an event of national historic significance, helping Canadians understand our history and its consequences.
While the government has taken important steps toward reconciliation, much more needs to be done. Canadians' understanding of the painful legacy of residential schools is vital to truth-telling, reconciliation and the recognition of past injustices. It will inform our future actions with the full knowledge of what has been done to indigenous people across this land.
A few years ago, in my riding, I held a screening of the documentary We Were Children. It tells the story of two children who were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools where they suffered years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Afterward, an 80-year-old former MP said he learned more in that night than he had in his entire life. New Canadians in attendance asked why they had never learned about this when they came to Canada. This all speaks to the importance of educating Canadians about our colonial past and the impact on generations of indigenous peoples.
In 2012, I had the opportunity to visit Pelican Falls First Nations High School in Sioux Lookout, a former residential school that is now run by the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council. While there, I had the honour to meet executive director Norma Kejick, an incredible woman whose good work was highlighted in the book Seven Fallen Feathers. Norma gave us a tour which included the surrounding forest, where many students died while trying to find their way home when it was a residential school.
When I left the school, I broke down in tears. How could a country treat innocent children in such a horrific way? How could we strip them from their families, the love of their parents and their broader community? How could we try to erase their culture and language? It is unimaginable to me that we could treat other humans this way, and yet we did it in the not so distant past.
A national day for truth and reconciliation would give us the opportunity to listen to all indigenous voices, reflect on past wrongs, learn from our mistakes and take action to advance meaningful reconciliation. On Orange Shirt Day, every child matters, and ever indigenous child deserves to be cared for, feel the full sense of their worth and feel hopeful for their future. Every single person in Canada shares the burden and shame of our reality.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services, I know how important reconciliation is to our government, but I also know there is much more work to be done. Designating September 30 as the national day for truth and reconciliation would represent a national acknowledgement of our country's history and a way to honour survivors of residential schools.