Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador.
I am proud to stand here on the unceded land of the Algonquin people, the meeting place of the Métis Nation, the united first nations, the Inuit people, and the home of all Canadians.
I have a message for the people of Attawapiskat, for the people of Cross Lake with whom I have met, for every indigenous person, whether they live in Quebec City, on a reserve or in a city, in Newfoundland, in Winnipeg, or in Regina. Wherever they are in Canada, each and every one of them matters. Every life matters.
An elder said to me, “We need to fight hard to keep the spirit of suicide out.”
The pain those people feel is real. It is a pain that I have felt myself. They may feel powerless. They may feel despair. They may feel hopelessness. However, there are cracks in the world, and that is where the light can come in. If they can hold on through that pain and muster their strength to make it through another day, that pain can fade, and they are never alone. There are people across Canada who care about what happens to them. This is a demonstration here tonight of the people who care about them. They matter. They are important.
The only thing harder than losing someone is losing someone before his or her time. The pain he or she is feeling is a part of grieving. It is part of honouring a lost life. Grief is hard, but it is not evil. It is our spirit that is in pain because we have been split away from the one we loved. However, the loss of hope that we feel is something greater, more profound, and it is real.
The reality of the lives of the people in Cross Lake and Attawapiskat needs to be heard across the country and around the world. Life in first nation communities is hard, and it is harder than it needs to be. There are too many communities like Cross Lake and Attawapiskat, across Manitoba and across the country where too many people, young and old, are living without hope. There are many indigenous people living off reserve who struggle with poverty and racism in our great cities. We, as their brothers and sisters, as their fellow citizens, as their fellow human beings, have let them down.
There is a prophecy that was told to me by an elder, Winston Wuttunee, who comes from the west. The prophecy as told is that after contact with Europeans, the indigenous people will suffer greatly. However, upon the shoulders of the seventh generation will fall the task of lifting up the people. Starting in greater numbers, they will start to take pride in themselves, in their culture, in their religion, and in their families. They will realize that their culture and their ancestors are strong, and that their ancestors are standing behind them willing them on to success.
There is a second part to this prophecy, which is that the seventh generation will not do this by themselves. Rather, hand-in-hand with newcomers they will bring change to their common society, because we all know it has to change and the change must be deep and structural. We must embrace deep change for our communities. I believe that change is possible.
Despair can give way to hope, and fear can give way to joy, but it will take an awful lot of work. It will take work from every level of government, from the esteemed members of this chamber to every chief and band council across the country, to provide the deep change that is needed. It will also require the work of corporations and our fellow citizens. It will take the federal governments, provinces, cities, and first nations, the Métis nation and the Inuit people, because too often when we hear about a tragedy or a tragedy-on-tragedy in first nations communities, our very first thought is to separate ourselves from the problem and pronounce our own innocence. Too often we, as Canadians, say, “What are they doing? What is their leadership doing to solve their problems?” We do not ask what we are doing. We do not ask what our leadership is doing to solve our own collective problems. These are our collective problems.
Since before the first European set foot on Turtle Island, the territory we now call Canada has always been home to not one but many people. Today, Canada is home to many people from many nations, and first nations and all indigenous peoples are Canadians. We are still many people united as one. It starts with hope. Everything begins with hope. Making hope a reality takes work, effort, and resources.
I will urge them to do something more. Every single one of them is stronger than they know. Every single one of them is better than they know. When times are at their hardest, I urge them to use the spark of sacred energy within them to hold on to hope, to look to the light, to look within them to keep moving forward, even when hope seems lost. If they hold some guilt or shame within them or think of themselves as a bad person, they should know this: that they can change, they can grow, they can be forgiven, and they can forgive themselves. They are not born good, nor are they born bad. We become good by doing good deeds. We become generous by doing generous acts. We can inspire others to goodness so they can join with us. If they wake up in despair, they can say, “Today is a good day because I am alive and I matter.” The road ahead may not be easy.
Basil Johnston, an Anishinabe elder, wrote that each and every one of us has a life path, a potential, a destiny. We start with many possible paths, but we must choose one path. For some in our society, that path is steep and rocky. The young start climbing the hill. Some walk, some run, some crawl, and some stumble. Those who arrive at the top of the path and see the path continues, they move along that path getting older. Some youth will pick a different path, a path which will not lead to their full potential. They arrive at the top of a rocky hill. They look over to the other side and the road continues. Some will give up and not realize their full potential, but others will continue and conquer that mountain and see that promised land that we heard about over 50 years ago.
The elders are victors for they have walked many winding paths, yet they still stand at the top of the mountain and can look back and see the young, the youth, and the adults in the distance behind them and still look forward into the sun and see the grandfathers in the distance.
However, each of them have a road and a path they can follow out of the darkness and into the light.
I will carry them in my heart on my travels and I will remember them and think of them, and I will invite them to work with me, for themselves and for all of us to see the deep change we need.
However, we know that hope is not enough and words are fleeting, especially off in the highest chambers of our land.
Hope is a good breakfast, but a poor supper.
In the midst of darkness, we need to redouble our efforts and offer not just words but action. We must offer not just hope but opportunity.
We can build homes for the homeless. We can provide jobs for the jobless. We can provide better health care and education. It is our duty and our plan to do so, but we must do more.
We have an opportunity to move forward, not simply in reconciliation, as survivors waiting passively for the house of Canada to come to the rescue, but we must move forward in celebration of indigenous peoples as a founding people of this land in recognizing the covenant that we have together.
There are four directions in my indigenous tradition. There are four seasons in this land. There are four founding peoples. They are the indigenous peoples, the English, the French, and the newcomers who have come from around the world who now call this place, Canada, home. That is the true nature of our nation.
We did not make this broken world that we inherited, but we do not have to leave it to our children.
It is about recognizing dignity and freedom and care for all Canadians, about recognizing that each and every one of us is a human being, worthy of respect, that each and every one of us matters.
Tapwe akwa khitwam.