Meeting with Kwikwetlem Chief and Council
On August 10, I met with Kwikwetlem Chief Ed Hall, and Councillors John Peters and George Chaffee by Zoom. We discussed issues concerning the Kwikwetlem First Nation, including intergenerational trauma from residential schools, environmental stewardship, and Truth and Reconciliation. I was saddened by the accounts of injustice that First Nations continue to face, such as accessing basic necessities like clean water. The Chief and Councillors' passion, knowledge and yearning for good stewardship of the land, fish habitat and environment are inspiring and crucial to help us learn how to better steward our environment.
Prior to my meeting with the Chief and Council, I was overwhelmed with grief, as many Canadians have been, about the findings of unmarked graves at the residential school sites. However, meeting with the Kwikwetlem Chief and Council gave me hope that with the cultivation of trust, transparency, and thoughtful discussions, over time, I anticipate a forward motion of thoughtful steps on the path to reconciliation and healing.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
As a Member of The Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I was able to speak into the delayed, final report for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). First Nations witnesses expressed their complaints about the government's failure to produce the MMIWG final report during committee meetings on the Impact of COVID-19 on Women.
On July 7, 2020, I asked the Hon. Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality, when the government was going to release the final report.
“Minister Monsef, the most haunting statement I heard from the witnesses yesterday was from Lorraine Whitman, an elder with the Glooscap First Nation in Nova Scotia, and president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. Essentially she said that the indigenous community is hurt because they made themselves vulnerable by telling their stories in good faith that the government was going to follow through with their promise of action on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, but didn't. There's deep disappointment.
It's simply wrong to toy with people's pain and make them relive their trauma over and over as they retell their story, and then crush their hope by not following through. This is another barrier that brings us backward in the process of reconciliation. Indigenous communities already struggle with hope. We see it in the high cases of youth suicide.
The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was meant to be released in June, and the government has used COVID an an excuse to delay the release. What is the government's plan if we get a second wave? This is a matter of justice, restoring trust and being serious about reconciliation. When can these communities expect the final report?”
Unmarked Graves at Residential School Sites
In response to the unmarked graves at residential school sites in Kamloops, I composed a musical tribute for the 215 children and passed it along with a letter to Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation Chief Rosanne Casimir to express the support of our community for her nation's healing and comfort.
Additionally, the following is a public statement I made on June 14, 2021:
Over these last two weeks, our entire nation has been grieving the tragic finding of the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Survivors of the Residential Schools are re-traumatized and continue to experience profound sorrow and anger. It’s been a long journey because the roots of injustice and pain are deep. The First Nation communities continue to be in our hearts and prayers. But solidarity must be accompanied by action for true healing to happen for Canada’s First Nations and Indigenous peoples.
That is why our Leader Erin O’Toole wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to take meaningful actions that can help families and communities as they look for hope in the midst of their grief. I join him in recommending that the government:
Develop a comprehensive plan to implement TRC Calls to Action 71 through 76 by July 1, 2021;
Fund the investigation at all former residential schools in Canada where unmarked graves may exist, including the site where 215 children have already been discovered;
Ensure that proper resources are allocated for communities to reinter, commemorate, and honour any individuals discovered through the investigation, according to the wishes of their next of kin;
and develop a detailed and thorough set of resources to educate Canadians of all ages on the tragic history of residential schools in Canada.
The plight of the First Nations and Indigenous people of Canada for survival and dignity has been a hanging shadow over Canada for too many generations. We must face the truth with all its darkness and tragedy and allow the regret, anger and sorrow we feel to compel meaningful action.
As I hear more stories on the atrocities faced by residential school children, I’m at a loss for words. As I continue grieving this dark stain in Canada’s history, I will also continue contributing my voice and action for the healing of our First Nations and Indigenous communities.