Madam Speaker, today I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Vancouver Centre.
Kwe. Unusakut. Tansi. Hello. Bonjour. I want to acknowledge that I am speaking today from the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
Indigenous communities, families and friends are hurting. Emotions are high, and the pain is real. For indigenous people, the events this week may not be a surprise. It does not make it less of a shock or less painful. There is not a single community that is not grieving today. The news that came from Kamloops last week has opened up wounds that were not closed, even if people thought they were closed.
Our thoughts and actions at this time must support the communities and families in recovering the truth, so that they could continue to heal. We cannot heal without the truth, as painful as it is. It is on the hearts and minds of all Canadians, and frankly, if it is not, it should be.
Over the past week, people have shared piercing and atrocious anecdotes that really show what kind of places those facilities were, and indeed the testimonials today from members in the House certainly reinforces that. I thank them for their testimonials.
I was reminded by a faith healer friend who I rely heavily upon that, for example, the Mohawk Institute in Six Nations had an orchard and had apples, but the kids could not eat them. They were punished if they did. There were chickens, but the kids could not take the eggs because the eggs were sent to market. The only time they would get one was at Easter. Calling those places schools is to use a euphemism. They were labour camps, and people starved.
I know people are eager to get answers as to what the federal government will do, what we will do nationally and what Canada will do. Let me say this clearly, we will be there for indigenous communities that want to continue the search for the truth.
The reality is that this is something that will be dictated to us by the communities that are affected, as set forth notably in call to action 76 in the body of the Truth and Reconciliation Report. We will be there for communities. We do have to respect the privacy, space and mourning period of those communities that are collecting their thoughts and putting together their protocols as to how to honour these children. They have asked us specifically for that. We will do that, and Canadians must respect that.
Yesterday, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations announced $27 million in funding to support the ongoing NCTR and to implement calls to action 74 to 76. This will fund support for survivors, their families and communities across Canada to locate and memorialize children who died or went missing while attending residential schools.
We also have to look one another right in the eyes and face the fact that the general public either misunderstands or is ignorant of certain chapters of our history, especially the most painful ones. This truth is hard to bear, particularly for the indigenous communities affected and for the individuals and families who are reliving very painful parts of their own history or that of their parents, cousins, uncles and aunts.
As leaders, politicians and members of Parliament, it is also our role to educate and contribute to that education. In light of what we have learned this week, it is once again clear that many more truths remain to be uncovered. Explanations are needed. Too often, that explanation comes from indigenous peoples themselves. Too often, the job of educating Canadians has fallen to them, and, too often, we do not transmit that knowledge to our children. Fortunately, children are now learning about this in school, and they are telling us the harsh truth about what happened. Placing this burden on indigenous peoples is not fair. It should not be their burden to carry.
I repeat: We will be there for indigenous communities and families. We will support the search for truth and we will implement calls to action 72 to 76, among others, with an initial investment of $27 million. This funding will be distributed according to the priorities and requests of the communities themselves.
The government's role is to financially support communities in their grieving and healing process, as the wounds are still very fresh in this case. The communities will decide themselves whether they want to proceed with more extensive searches or not.
In this particular case, we spoke directly with indigenous leaders in Kamloops and the surrounding communities to offer mental health and security services, because emotions are running high, but we will respect the space they asked us to respect.
Obviously, this is painful for families who may have had uncles, aunts or cousins who disappeared and were never heard from again, but the key point here is that the Government of Canada will be there with the necessary support and funding for the communities that need it.
One of the many things being highlighted and underscored this week, in the midst of the heartache in Kamloops, is that indigenous children belong with their families and communities. Kids belong at home, where they can be with their relatives and elders; where they can learn their nation's culture, language and traditions; and where they can be given back all that was taken from, their parents and their grandparents. Bill C-92 affirms this inherent right. I would note that this basic right is one that the rest of us take for granted.
All of us share the responsibility to ensure this happens. The number of indigenous children who have been taken away in care in recent years far exceeds the number who attended residential schools. That should set in. In 2016, more than 52% of children in foster care in Canada were indigenous, and they account for 7% of the child population. The truth is that for children taken away from their community, their connections to their cultures and traditions were impacted too.
Fixing a broken system requires long-term reforms. The Government of Canada is determined to eliminate and continues to eliminate these discriminatory policies and practices against indigenous children, and we are doing it hand-in-hand with indigenous partners. The Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, which responds to calls to action, is a new way forward. Indigenous governments and communities have always been empowered to decide what is best for their children, their families and their communities, and the act provides a path for them to fully exercise and lift up that jurisdiction.
As a result of this work, led by indigenous communities, two indigenous laws are now enforced: the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations law in Ontario and the Miyo Pimatisowin Act of the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. In each of these communities, children will have greater opportunity to grow up immersed in their culture and surrounded by loved ones. They will be welcomed home.
We are moving closer to achieving our shared ultimate goal of reducing the number of indigenous children in care. Systemic reform of the child and family services system is one important step. Compensation for past harms is another.
Since the CHRT issued its first order for Canada to cease its discriminatory practices in 2016, we have been working with first nations leaders and partners to implement the tribunal's orders.
We have the same goal of fair and equitable compensation. Let me be clear that no first nations children will be denied fair and equitable compensation. Children should not be denied the products or services they need because governments cannot agree on who will pay for them. It is why, via Jordan's principle, we have funded approximately $2 billion in services, speech therapy, educational supports, medical equipment, mental health services and so much more. This is transformative and the right thing to do.
The government is not questioning or challenging the notion that first nations children who were removed from their homes, families and communities should be compensated. We are committed to providing first nations children with access to the necessary supports and services, but it is important to obtain clarity on certain limited issues, which is why we brought the judicial review forward. We need to focus on what is really important, ensuring fair and equitable compensation of first nations children affected by the child and family services program and that first nations children have access to the supports they need when they need them.
I would remind the House that there are also two competing class actions that deal essentially with the same group of children. We are, nevertheless, in discussions with the parties to the various cases, but those discussions must remain confidential out of respect.
Finally, no court case can achieve the transformative change that we need to achieve as a country.
As the recent discovery in Kamloops reminds us once again, every child in this country should have the support and services they need to thrive.
Removing a child from their family or community must be an absolute last resort. We need to do the work to change the system and ensure that every person is treated equally and fairly, without prejudice or injustice, and with respect and dignity. It is our responsibility as a government and as Canadians who want to make Canada a better place for everyone.
We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and find ways to right some historic wrongs, to acknowledge what never should have happened and do everything we can to ensure a better future.
Meegwetch. Nakurmik. Masi cho.