Madam Speaker, it is important for me today to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-8 from the unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik.
What is a nation, and what does it mean to be a Canadian citizen? Bill C-8 is an act to amend the Citizenship Act. The bill would change the oath of citizenship for newcomers to Canada to include recognition and affirmation of the treaty rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis people.
As I have proudly mentioned many times in this House, before I joined federal politics I was a teacher. When I think about this bill and the oath of citizenship, I think about what it teaches us about who we are and who we want to be.
In my time at Fredericton High School as a cultural transition coordinator for indigenous youth, I helped to run a native education centre. My role was to ensure that students were welcomed, supported, empowered and that they had access to the materials and resources they needed for success, often a tall order in a large institution.
I had the pleasure of working closely with the English as a second language department for newcomer students, who were in the same wing. My goal was to facilitate learning about indigenous culture and heritage with my students, but also with the wider school population and staff. I would create bulletin boards with information; spotlight incredible indigenous leaders, actors, artists, language keepers; visit classes or host professional development seminars.
It was not long before the ESL department requested that I come in and speak with their students, who were very curious about my role. I noticed that the “welcome to Canada” curriculum that the ESL teachers had been given represented indigenous peoples with a totem pole, a teepee and an inukshuk. Beyond these superficial symbolic images, there was no substance, no discussion of rights, of the peace and friendship treaties in our territory, of the different Wabanaki nations on the east coast, no highlight of the 15 communities in New Brunswick, nine Mi’kmaq and six Wolastoqiyik.
We started to hold group potlucks with traditional foods, sometimes in our space and sometimes in theirs. Beyond the cultural exchange, I noticed the bonds that the youth were making with one another and I noticed the pride in being a part of Canada’s mosaic. We are strengthened by our diversity and it was beautiful to witness an exercise in community building. These students had more in common than they first believed. Many were subjected to prejudice, discrimination and racism. I also noticed that newcomer students began to open up more about their homelands or refugee experiences. They identified with the history of colonialism they were learning and they were excited by the indigenous cultural resurgence happening in local nations because of the hope it offered.
It is a rare opportunity to connect our desire to welcome newcomers with honesty about the sovereignty of indigenous nations. This is important work that we are undertaking.
We cannot ignore the reason why we are here tonight. It is to discuss Bill C-8 and to expedite its passage into Canadian law. However, this urgency comes from the horrific discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops residential school. It should not have taken this latest revelation of wrongdoing to prompt action. We have known the impact of residential schools in this country for decades, at least those of us who bothered to listen. The children have pushed the truth to the surface. No one can say they did not know. Newcomers to Canada will have to come to terms with these realizations as well, out of respect to the original inhabitants of this land, the ones who are still here and the ones who never came home.
The oath in call to action 94 is as follows:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
Upholding this oath requires a further in-depth conversation about colonialism, the British Crown and its role in the atrocities of residential schools and ongoing oppression, about monies and Crown lands held in trust by Her Majesty the Queen on behalf of indigenous peoples.
As for the faithful observation of laws in Canada, including treaties, we have much work to do. Canadians have very little understanding of our treaty relationship. This became painfully obvious during the Mi’kmaq fishery dispute.
While we stand here today to hopefully unanimously pass Bill C-8, implementing call to action 94 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, call to action 93 has been stalled since June 2018, when the federal government said changes to the information kit for newcomers were close to completion. Can we have an update on this? Can we have a status report on all calls to action? This is what the survivors, those who are descendants of settlers, and certainly newcomers need from the government.
The Liberal government has completed an average of only two TRC calls to action per year since 2015. At this rate, it will take until 2062 to complete all 94. My children will likely have their own children by then. These are steps in the right direction, but I would like to share the reflections of a person from my riding.
This is what they said: “I’m hopeful that people will finally read the recommendations. Maybe finding more human bodies will wake people up to the notion that each of these recommendations addresses a specific concern. The onus should be on our government to explain why they are not adopting specific recommendations versus our current system of applauding them when they pick and choose off the list like it is.”
I appreciate this wisdom. The calls to action represent a package of reforms that create a road map for reconciliation. We must walk that road step by step, recommendation by recommendation. Rather than applause for hand-selecting the 11th and 12th recommendations to enshrine over a six-year period, we need to be seeing status reports on the implementation, demanding more accountability from the government when it falls short, when we all fall short.
I would like to read recommendations 71 to 76 today, as they relate so directly to the lost children in Kamloops and those across the nation who remain invisible. Under “Missing Children and Burial Information”, the calls to action are as follows:
71. We call upon all chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies that have not provided to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada their records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities to make these documents available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
72. We call upon the federal government to allocate sufficient resources to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to allow it to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
73. We call upon the federal government to work with churches, Aboriginal communities, and former residential school students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children.
74. We call upon the federal government to work with the churches and Aboriginal community leaders to inform the families of children who died at residential schools of the child’s burial location, and to respond to families’ wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, and reburial in home communities where requested.
75. We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students, and current landowners to develop and implement strategies and procedures for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. This is to include the provision of appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children.
76. We call upon the parties engaged in the work of documenting, maintaining, commemorating, and protecting residential school cemeteries to adopt strategies in accordance with the following principles:
i. The Aboriginal community most affected shall lead the development of such strategies.
ii. Information shall be sought from residential school Survivors and other Knowledge Keepers in the development of such strategies.
iii. Aboriginal protocols shall be respected before any potentially invasive technical inspection and investigation of a cemetery site.
We also need to provide the space to grieve. There was a collective sadness being felt across this country. This is the truth that comes before the reconciliation. We had to come to this point of reckoning to wake up those who were still sleeping. Now that we know, we cannot unknow. Enshrining acknowledgement of indigenous peoples into the newcomer citizenship oath asks us to never forget.
I support Bill C-8 and ask my colleagues in the Senate to agree. Let us get this done.