This year on Canada Day I will be attending an event at the Stz'uminus First Nation to celebrate their graduating class of 2021. After that, I will be attending the Orange Shirt Day event at the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation.
It is important for all Canadians to reflect on our history this Canada Day. June was Indigenous History Month and Canadians received a horrifically brutal and shocking history lesson with the discovery of almost 1,000 grave sites at former residential schools. Why would a school have a grave site? Why did so many children die? Why weren't the bodies of children who died returned home to their families?
Indigenous people in this country, and those who have been listening to the survivors of the residential school system, are not surprised by these discoveries. 150,000 children went to residential schools. The conservative estimate is that 4,100 or 1 in 36 children died. Higher estimates are that 25,000 or 1 in 6 children died. People can put this in perspective by considering their own children's classrooms.
Reconciliation must be more than words—it must be actions at a personal level, a community level, and a nation-to-nation level. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls to action and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) calls for justice have shown us the path forward.
How can you help to make things right in the wake of Canada’s genocidal policy? What personal commitment will you make? TRC Call to Action #94 was realized when Bill C-8 passed in the House of Commons. Bill C-8 added the following to Canada’s oath of citizenship: "I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.” This oath must be taken by anyone who has been granted Canadian citizenship, but I recommend that all Canadians take this part of the oath on Canada Day.
Last fall I gave a speech on Bill C-8 in the House of Commons.
I also made a statement on Orange Shirt Day to honour and remember residential school survivors.
In Canada we also have to address the legacy of the Indian hospitals which were run by the federal government. This includes the former Nanaimo Indian Hospital on the Department of National Defence lands beside Vancouver Island University. The Snuneymuxw First Nation have a claim on this site which must be addressed. I asked the Minister of Crown Indigenous Relations to commit to a full independent inquiry into Canada’s Indian hospital system.
There is a lot of work to do. We need to double down and work for the kind of Canada we want so we can truly celebrate Canada Day.
As a starting point, I encourage you to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report and the 94 calls to action. I also invite you to sign parliamentary petition e-3484, which closes for signatures on October 1st, 2021. This petition calls on the government to support further investigations and release documentation of former residential school properties.