The new federal government is off to a good start, but British Columbia needs a “reality check” with respect toward reconciliation, say local First Nations spokespersons.
Canim Lake Band Chief Mike Archie weighed in on the federal government’s release of the long-awaited Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) final report and blasted the province’s handling of the child-welfare system, in the same statement released by the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (NStQ) on Dec. 18.
Archie expressed cautious optimism in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge to accept all 94 calls to action toward reconciliation in the TRC report, which detailed the tragic history of Canada’s residential school system, designed to assimilate indigenous children into Christian culture.
The report provides details of physical and sexual abuse and thousands of deaths of indigenous children.
“The 2008 Indian residential schools public apology by former Prime Minister Stephen 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,” says Archie, who is also the vice-chair of the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council board of directors.
“Recognition and admission of the wrong doing is only one aspect of this. However, moving forward and building on the relationship between First Nations and the federal government requires commitment and resourcing.”
First Nations must be included in all discussions about how to move forward, Archie adds.
“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.”
Archie acknowledges the students who attended St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School, which operated in the Cariboo region until the early 1980s.
“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.”
The report reviewing the embattled Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) – titled the Plecas Review, Part One: Decision Time – was released on Dec. 14.
In an open letter to British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, First Nations leaders from across B.C. objected to the report’s “cavalier observation” regarding deaths and serious injuries to children in care, and openly opposed the report’s recommendations into the province’s child welfare system, which includes a large and disproportionate amount of aboriginal children.
Archie says he echoes the thoughts of his Union of B.C. Indian Chief colleagues, “that not a single one of our children is disposable.”
“We, collectively, take great offence 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 TRC report and its ‘never again’ initiative regarding harm and risk to children with its five calls to action to address child welfare, we condemn B.C.’s [Bob] 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.”
The NStQ statement continues: “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.”
The NStQ comprises the four Northern Shuswap communities of Canim Lake Band (Tsq’escen’), Williams Lake Band (T’exelc), Soda Creek Band (Xats’ūll) and Stswecem’c/Xgat’tem (Canoe Creek / Dog Creek bands).