In the four years that we have been Members of the Legislative Assembly, hundreds of British Columbians have reached out to talk about Crown/settler-Indigenous relationships.
What we have heard consistently in these conversations is that people are frustrated that they have not been taught about the true history of our country. While there is information available, we hear people feel it is not accessible, and they do not know where to start.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was mandated to “inform all Canadians about what happened in residential schools.” The commission’s work concluded in 2015 and they published 94 Calls to Action. Action 80 was the establishment of a day to “honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
Sept. 30, 2021, will be the first time in Canadian history that there will be a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a statutory holiday for federally regulated workers, to “recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools.” Let’s take this day to pause and open our hearts and minds to who we are, and where we have come from.
On May 27, 2021, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir announced that ground-penetrating radar had found the remains of children who died while they were students at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The news shook Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Since then, several other Indigenous communities across the country have made similar announcements. There are thousands of Indigenous children that never made it home from school.
Six days after Kukpi7 Casimir’s announcement, on June 3, 2021, the federal parliament passed Bill C-5. It took only six days to do what the federal and provincial governments couldn’t do for six years. It is remarkable to see how quickly governments can work when they are motivated.
On Aug. 3, 2021, the British Columbia provincial government announced that they would get to work with Indigenous, business and labour stakeholders to engage on how best to commemorate the day in the future. For 2021, they put provisions in place for public sector employees to reduce service levels or close in honour of the day.
We are thankful to all of the people who have reached out to open a dialogue. There is no doubt that over the many years of being public officials, Canadian culture has undergone remarkable changes. It has been mostly positive.
Our provincial and federal governments have a failing grade when it comes to educating Canadians about our true history. Thankfully, that is changing, in part because they are updating the curriculum and in part because we have educators that have taken matters into their own hands to find material that gives their students a deeper, more truthful understanding of the history of our country. Orange Shirt Day has played a critical role in that movement.
We encourage you to actively educate yourself. Visit your local bookstore, there are many excellent books covering Indigenous history, spirituality, philosophy, politics, and economics. Check your local post-secondary institution for seminars and lectures. Connect with a few friends, find a presenter, and host your own event.
It only took six days to get done what was recommended six years ago, largely because Canadians let elected officials know they care and demanded their governments take real action. We will not lose momentum if we keep our minds open to the truth, and, if our hearts embrace the spirit of reconciliation.
Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley