(Williams Lake, British Columbia) This week saw the release of two reports that touch on the lives of Aboriginal children and youth; one federal and one provincial, with each providing distinctly differing views.
With the release of the federal governments’ long awaited Truth and Reconciliation final report, seven years in the making with its’ wide-ranging 94 calls to action, the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw Chiefs feel cautiously optimistic that Prime Minister Trudeau’s government will now begin to immediately address the reports’ specific calls to action. The NStQ comprises the four Northern Shuswap communities of Canim Lake Indian Band (Tsq’escen’), Williams Lake Indian Band (T’exelc), Soda Creek Indian Band (Xats’ūll) and Stswecem’c/Xgat’tem (Canoe Creek / Dog Creek Indian Bands).
The final report is a detailed account, spanning nearly 4,000 pages, of what happened to indigenous children who were physically and sexually abused in government boarding schools operated between 1870 and 1976, designed to assimilate indigenous children into Christian culture.
Canim Lake Indian Band Chief Mike Archie (and Vice-Chair of the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council Board of Directors), comments on the Truth and Reconciliation report;
“The 94 actionable recommendations within the Truth and Reconciliation report reflect a long standing history between the Canadian government and its Aboriginal people. The 2008 Indian residential schools public apology by former Prime Minister Harper, and echoed by Mr. Trudeau, referred to the treatment of First Nations students who were mere children when they were pulled from their homes and communities through government policy. Recognition and admission of the wrong doing is only one aspect of this. However, moving forward and building on the relationship between the First Nations and the federal government requires commitment and resourcing. First and foremost, First Nations must be included in all discussions about how we now move forward. Prime Minister Trudeau’s mandate directing his ministers to work on their relationship with First Nations is to be applauded. This is a first step towards reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous peoples to build a better, sustainable future for First Nations and all Canadians as a whole. We also want to acknowledge the students who attended St. Josephs' Mission Residential School which operated in our region. With the prime minister's mandates and the 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation commission, our communities can begin the process of healing and moving forward. This is the most important thing, the healing in our First Nations’ communities.”
Prime Minister Trudeau believes the document sets Canada squarely on the path to true reconciliation. “The final report provides a way forward for all Canadians, building on the formal apology that former Prime Minister Harper issued seven years ago. Our Government is committed to walking that path with indigenous peoples in partnership and friendship”, says Mr. Trudeau.
While the final report marks the end of the commission’s mandate, Justice Murray Sinclair, the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says it marks the beginning of a new chapter in relations between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians. “I stand before you here, hopeful that we are at a threshold of a new era in this country”, said Sinclair to an emotionally charged room filled with many residential school survivors and their families, moments before he unveiled the commission’s final report in Ottawa.
In stark contrast to the federal Truth and Reconciliation report, the Plecas Review, Part One: Decision Time, was commissioned by BC’s Christy Clark government. This report, as stated by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, appears to flippantly dismiss the value of reports written by Justices such as Mr. Sinclair.
“As one of the four Northern Shuswap communities’ Chiefs and Vice-Chair of the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council Board of Directors I echo the thoughts of all my Union of BC Indian Chief colleagues, that not a single one of our children is disposable!”, says Chief Archie. He continues, “We, collectively, take great offense at the casual suggestion by Mr. Plecas that we must simply accept and normalize the deaths of any of our children. While we celebrate the federal Truth and Reconciliation report and its ‘never again’ initiative regarding harm and risk to children with its five calls to action to address child welfare, we condemn BC’s Plecas ‘Decision Time’ report, as it speaks to a bygone era when our children were forcibly removed from their homes and put into residential schools, our land was taken, our culture was outlawed and any concern for our ‘well-being’ remains a distant thought. If Premier Clark’s government stands by this report, it appears they are saying the status-quo is acceptable and ‘it will always be’, which we find completely unacceptable, as we move toward true reconciliation for all Canadians”
The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (NStQ) believes the BC government needs to be reminded that the federal Truth and Reconciliation reports’ first recommendation calls upon federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in their care, and sets out clear steps as to how this should take place. While the federal government is off to a very strong start offering Canada’s First Nations hope for significant and efficient progress, the government of British Columbia is in need of a reality check in terms of its commitment to move forward with healing and reconciliation for First Nations, and all Canadians.
For more NStQ information and/or comments, contact:
o Chief Mike Archie (Canim Lake Indian Band) / Northern Shuswap Tribal Council, Board of Directors Vice-Chair