Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member of Parliament for Chilliwack—Hope.
I will first take a moment to share a few words on behalf of the citizens of Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola. We are collectively shocked, saddened and outraged at the discovery of an unmarked gravesite for 215 children at the former indigenous residential school in Kamloops. This discovery is difficult to put into words and I would ask that we all think of the Tk'emlúps First Nation that made this deeply disturbing discovery.
I would also ask that we think of the many families in indigenous communities throughout our region that had children at the Kamloops residential school, many of whom did not return. I will take a moment to read into the record some of the comments from indigenous chiefs in British Columbia, as I believe their comments must be heard.
I made some brief remarks about Chief Harvey McLeod from the Upper Nicola Band in my region in the take-note debate, but I will read his comments in full. He stated:
We always knew that this was happening there, but it was in our own minds, we had no proof other than our own experience. We hear really horrific stories about what happened and dealing with our people that had passed on, and what they were forced to do, to bury them. And it wasn’t the grown-ups, it was the babies.
So much hurt and pain came out in a matter of seconds. Just felt for our families that all went there. We have a large number of people from this community (Upper Nicola) that went to school there. We all have different experiences but a lot of hurt and pain and shame and anger leaving there.
I went back to the two years that I attended. I know that there were incidents happening there because I went through a lot of experiences myself. I know people that just disappeared, and we assumed that they ran away and got away and are at home somewhere, but never did see them again.
We as communities and leadership will find the best way of doing this and taking care of our people. We want to all be on the same page when it comes to having the ceremony to bring our people home.
It’s going to take a lot of strength to walk with our people while they remember the hurt and pain from that school. And it will be so much better when we’re all united, working together to ensure we’re there for our citizens.
I would like to mention some words from Ellis Ross, now an MLA for Skeena and a former chief councillor for the Haisla Nation. He stated, “Here goes; normally I’d do a live video but i doubt I could hold it together for this topic/the kids found buried at a Kamloops residential school/This is reliving the trauma for survivors and is shocking for their family members and non-aboriginals alike.” “I’d like to say that you will come to terms with it or the feeling goes away but it doesn’t, not now anyway mainly because this is still fresh in the minds of survivors. It hasn’t gone away for me when i came to understand it in 2004.” “To be clear, i was sad and angry when i learned the truth because my parents wouldn’t talk about it, just in bits and pieces. I learned to live with it and used it for motivation to build a better future and 'break the cycle' (well known term with FNs).” “17 years ago, I understood what happened overall; i decided to help fix issues of today instead of my revenge ideas. This Kamloops school story brought it all back to the day i sat in our archives and broke down. Repatriation will be traumatizing but needed.”
Those are powerful words. I was deeply moved to hear them, as I am certain many members in this place are also.
So many local indigenous communities were impacted and traumatized by these institutions because that is what they were. They were not schools like members and I went to. I cannot think of a worse situation for a parent: their children being taken way from them, only to never return home. Did they run away? I cannot imagine how it would feel to not know for so many years, until one day their worst nightmare comes along when they hear about these graves. Learning of these graves only raises more questions, and they are troubling questions. In this place, we must do everything we can to help find answers to those questions and to help bring accountability to indigenous families, including those who attended the schools. I say “attended”, but in reality, it was more like they were incarcerated in those schools.
Today's opposition motion from the NDP is but our first steps in helping to provide some answers in what I expect will be a long journey.
It is important we must also consider that reconciliation will mean different things to different people. We must also recognize this because we cannot, we must not, allow the usual Ottawa one-size-fits-all approach to finding true reconciliation. It is not “first nation”; it is “first nations”. Each nation is unique and special, and it is time Ottawa started to recognize that. It is not unlike the institution in Kamloops. It and others like it were first created as a one-size-fits-all approach from Ottawa. Let us finally take a new approach that works in partnership with indigenous communities.
On that note, I will now comment on this opposition day motion.
We must be careful in this place to avoid making the mistakes of the past, and I appreciate how this motion is well intentioned. However, at least for many first nations in my community, community members are still in shock. Many are holding meetings and there are a great many discussions under way.
My point is that I have not been directly contacted by one of the first nations in my riding for guidance on this, and I highly doubt many other members have either, yet here we are with a motion deciding what we think we must do to help indigenous communities after such a traumatic and horrific discovery. Again, I appreciate the motivation of the opposition and I believe the NDP is sincere, but it has to be pointed out that we are moving on a motion without proper direction from those we are trying to help. Some would rightfully call this an Ottawa-knows-best approach. In my view, at some point we must recognize that this approach has not served our country well over the years.
I do not often agree with the Prime Minister, but recently he made a comment that I believe we should all be mindful of. His comment was:
If it were only done by ministers, if it were only done by Ottawa, to solve these challenges, it might have been done long ago, but it would have been done wrong. You cannot move forward on true reconciliation unless it is done in partnership with Indigenous communities, leaders, and individuals.
It would be very easy to play politics with this issue. It would be said that the current government has had five years to take action and that the ministers responsible have failed. The current government could say that the former government failed in 2009. We could go on and on, and eventually we would go back to 1969, when this institution in Kamloops was first taken over by the federal government of the day and ask why it did not close it then. Why was it not closed until 1978? Politicizing this issue will not provide the leadership that we, as parliamentarians, need to provide.
I believe I have made my point that we should all be concerned when we are here passing a motion without direction from indigenous communities, precisely as we are doing here. I would also add that I have heard the Prime Minister explain the reasons why his government believes the court action this opposition day motion proposes to cease is necessary.
The Prime Minister has argued that he believes it will ultimately produce a fairer outcome for the victims and their families. I do not know if the Prime Minister will continue to make that same argument. Often we rely on the courts to provide fair and equitable outcomes for challenging cases, more so when politics may interfere with that process. However, I also note that it is easy to dismiss the court actions as being a “belligerent and litigious approach to justice”, as it says in the motion, precisely as the fourth party has done here.
As I recall, it took the Prime Minister several minutes to explain why his government supported the court action and why it believed, at least at the time, that it would provide a fairer outcome. In politics, it is often said that when one is explaining, one is losing.
As I have stated, I believe the intention of the fourth party is to be sincere here. It means well, and in balance, I am keenly aware that in Canada we have literally created an indigenous law legal industry. It has been going on for decades. The lawyers certainly will profit from it. Many of the indigenous communities, in my riding at least, have not. Ultimately, it is about the people, the victims, the survivors and their families, and that is whom I am focused on.
I am prepared to support this opposition day motion. There are some cautions I have, which I have shared, but in balance, against inaction we must act, and this opposition day motion takes steps in that direction. I will be supporting it as a result.