Update: An important step on that journey to real reconciliation

Update: January 12, 2018

Grand Council Chief Patrick Wedasen Madahbee of Anishinabek Nation sent Elizabeth a letter of thanks for her intervention in the House regarding Bill C-61 (see below). You can read Chief Madahbee’s kind remarks by clicking here.

Bill C-61, the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement Act, is a landmark piece of legislation, unanimously voted through the House in December. Elizabeth is firmly committed to seeing its full implementation in the coming years. She looks forward to building relationships with leaders like Chief Madahbee, with the goal of fully realizing the right to self-determination for all Indigenous communities.


Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, as other speakers have, I acknowledge we are standing on traditional territory of the Algonquin nations, and thank them in their language, meegwetch.

I can speak, briefly, in the language of the place where I come from. The Speaker recognizes me as the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands. Saanich is an anglicized SENCOTEN word of the W_SÁNEC Nation. It is the nation of indigenous peoples that straddles both sides of the artificial border that separates the Coast Salish people, the territory of the Salish Sea, which is not observed by our southern resident killer whale population, or a division noticed by the wild salmon that inhabit our territories. It is the language of the people where I am honoured to live on their territory. I raise my hands to this place in the gesture of honour, respect, greeting, and gratitude, and say, “Hych’ka Siam”.

As we look at Bill C-61, it is a moment for gratitude. It is a moment to acknowledge hard work. As all the other members who have risen in this place today have noted, I was particularly touched by the personal reflections of the minister as she described the scene on that day when the agreement was signed. The signing of the agreement by the hon. minister on August 16, 2017 is a historic occasion. Having a bill like Bill C-61 universally supported in the House, to recognize the rights of self-determination as they relate to education of indigenous children, is an important step.

Certainly, Grand Chief Patrick Madahbee said it very clearly:

These 23 communities will be in the driver’s seat in creating a great future for their children. The impacts of colonialism in particular around the world with Indigenous people, they kept us uneducated and in poverty. And I think education is the key to our future, where we build capacity and we take over and run our own lives.

These sentiments were also reiterated in a letter that was sent to all of us as members of Parliament, urging us to pass the legislation, from Chief Shining Turtle of the White Fish River First Nation, in which he told us that the hon. minister had joined with his community for the historic signing, which he described as:

…the historic signing of the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement, a self-government agreement that recognizes Anishinabek law-making powers and authority of education for approximately over 8,000 students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 on and off-reserve.

This is an important step for the Anishinabek Nation, but it is an important step for Canada. Other members have already noted, as did the minister, that perhaps this is a template, that the next set of agreements for self-government over education need not take decades to arrive at an agreement, to arrive at transparent financing, to arrive at the rules by which we at long last will say to indigenous children to hang on to their language, and be very proud of who they are.

I want to quote briefly from the recommendations in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission discussing cultural genocide. It said:

Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. [Essential life services such as education, housing, clean water, medical care are restricted and substandard.] In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these thing.

If we look at this agreement, it is a very significant step on the path of reconciliation.

We know as settler culture people, the burden of reconciliation is mostly on us. Yesterday, I had the honour of putting questions to the soon to be, we hope, new Supreme Court justice, Madam Justice Sheilah Martin. She said that the most significant work she had done in her life was working with former Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, at the request of Phil Fontaine, former first nations grand chief, to work on a settlement relating to the residential school issue. She felt that every survivor of residential schools was deserving of payment regardless of whether the individual could prove he or she suffered or not. The system was one of imposed state enforced bureaucratic cruelty and was an instrument of cultural genocide. As close as possible, I want to quote what she said, that first we needed to find the truth, then reconciliation.

For settler culture Canadians, we need to know the truth, the truth of the residential schools, the truth of more than a century of efforts to eradicate everything that makes indigenous people truly indigenous to their own cultures, spiritual values, and identity. Nothing is closer to identity than the language we dream in, the language we think in, the language we speak with our children.

This concrete step in Bill C-61 is an important one on that journey to real reconciliation. As we take more steps, I am conscious all the time of how we ensure the will of Canadians from coast to coast to coast stays consistent with the difficult job we have to do in reconciliation with first nations, Métis, and Inuit people, and we spread this work on education and right to self-govern on education.

I spoke earlier in some of the only words in SENCOTEN that I know, but it certainly is inspiring to me that on the Tsartlip First Nation, near Brentwood Bay in my riding, is a tribal school in the name of what we call anglicized Mount Newton. In SENCOTEN it would mean the place of refuge. The Tsartlip Nation tribal school, which is available for the children of the first nation communities in the Saanich Peninsula, has emersion in SENCOTEN.

Children are now playing again, speaking their own language. What is really important is that the kids who are learning SENCOTEN are proud and they know they are cool. They play in SENCOTEN, they sing in SENCOTEN. As each year in this school progresses, and they base this on educational programs for immersion in indigenous language that was picked up from Hawaii, another grade is added so more and more children in this area, on the territory where I live, which is a SENCOTEN word, W_SÁNEC, meaning the people rising, who are non-indigenous know more W_SÁNEC words, more SENCOTEN words.

As one of my colleagues said earlier, it changes our sense of where we live in our own geography because we are not living in a place. The Green Party has officially repealed as a matter of policy the doctrine of discovery. We did not come to an empty place and claim it as our own. We came as a colonial occupying power and took land from others in a culture that pre-existed us by thousands of years. In every corner of our great country this happened. We need the truth and then we need to move to reconciliation.

My great hope is that with Bill C-61 and other measures like it, which I thank the minister from the bottom of my heart for her hard work and to the hard work of the Anishinabek Nation that took this to a referendum and passed it community by community, nation by nation, that we take concrete steps to really understand. In that understanding, we are achieving justice with indigenous peoples. More than that, we are enriching our society.

It allows us to know that in my territory of Saanich Gulf Islands, those gulf islands were created when a creator reached down and picked up several smooth dark rocks, scattered them out to the waters and told the people gathered, that those islands were the people’s relatives.

In SENCOTEN, there are the human people, whales are the whale people, salmon are the salmon people and they are our relatives. Our world view will be vastly improved and inspired on the path of reconciliation, and first nation languages for first nation children is an essential first step.


For more of Elizabeth’s thoughts on reconciliation, access her December householder on the subject here.