A speech in the B.C. Legislature on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021 by Peter Milobar, MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson.
P. Milobar: I rise today to acknowledge the recent Orange Shirt Day held on the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, but more broadly to speak about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and the individual and collective efforts we must make to achieve it.
Last Thursday many of us in this chamber and many more across British Columbia attended local events to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. We wore orange shirts as a visible symbol of our commitment to reconciliation.
Orange Shirt Day started in the Cariboo region and is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School commemoration project and reunion events that took place in Williams Lake in 2013. Former student Phyllis Webstad shared a story of how she had excitedly picked out her new orange shirt to wear to her new school, not knowing it would be taken from her amongst the other injustices she experienced there.
But beyond wearing a shirt or attending an observance, what else can we do to advance the process of reconciliation in our communities? We must listen to the voices of Indigenous people, who have too often been silenced by institutions and individuals.
As I listened to the various Indigenous leaderships speak in Kamloops on Thursday, it struck me that…. As speaker after speaker spoke about how there must be truth before true reconciliation, it occurred to me that Indigenous voices across this country had been speaking the truth for generations.
What had been lacking is a believing of the truth. For us to actually truly embrace reconciliation in a meaningful way with those Indigenous communities and Indigenous leaders, we must be willing to finally, with open arms, believe what we had been hearing all this time.
It took the tragic events and discovery of 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops to shine a national spotlight on that and make us collectively, as a society, take a look and start to truly listen and, more importantly, believe what we’d been hearing all these decades.
As a father of three Indigenous children myself, it was moving for me to sit there and think that the last school shut down in 1996. Two of my children would have been born while these schools were still open — or the last school, anyways. I can’t fathom what it would have been like to have a knock on the door, and your own kid is gone.
So for us to truly engage with reconciliation, we have to believe what we have been hearing.
We have to believe the intergenerational trauma is real. Just think for a moment what it must have been like for parents who had to attend those schools themselves to knowingly send their children and know what they were sending their children to. To think that that did not cause real and irreparable generational trauma is simply unfathomable.
To me, it’s important that we combat stereotypes. It’s important that we listen. It’s important the truth be told. But it is very important that the truth is believed, and that is a path forward that we can see for true reconciliation. The strength of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and Kúkpi7 Chief Roseanne Casimir and, in fact, the whole Secwépemc’ulucw residents has been phenomenal through this. They’re not the only ones though.
We’re seeing it from community by community by community. The number of schools in B.C. was incredible when you start to look at the overall national picture. To see that type of leadership step forward, to see those communities step forward, to see those communities still with open arms accept people into their community to try to have those conversations, it’s incumbent on not just everyone in this chamber, but, in fact, everyone in British Columbia to actually truly start to meaningfully engage in reconciliation efforts.
The leadership of First Nations communities, the overall population of Indigenous communities had been there for quite some time, wanting to engage, wanting to move forward in a meaningful way and wanting to do things in a good way with everyone in British Columbia. As First Nations leadership says regularly, they’re not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere. We need to find that path forward.
We need to find that way to make sure that their voices are believed. Because as I say, there truly can’t be reconciliation without the truth. But the truth has been out there for quite some time. As Kamloops continues to be the focal point at this juncture, we know, sadly, other communities will start to advance as well with their discoveries.
People are listening. Now is the time more than ever for us to take a meaningful action in this chamber to make sure that the words in the UNDRIP document that we all unanimously passed in that legislation are meaningfully actioned and to make sure that as we move forward, reconciliation is not just a buzzword, as again many leaders on that stage said on Thursday, the time for empty words and empty promises is long over.
The time for meaningful action and meaningful reconciliation is now. I know all of the members in this House feel that way. Now we collectively have to make sure our actions demonstrate that commitment to those words.
Source: BC Hansard.