National Indigenous Peoples Day

By: The Hon. Brian Francis

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Hon. Brian Francis: Honourable senators, June 21, 2021, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of National Indigenous Peoples Day, a time to celebrate the rich histories, cultures, traditions and contributions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people and to reflect on the significant work remaining in our collective journey toward truth, justice, healing and reconciliation. Although generally a joyous and uplifting occasion, activities taking place today have taken a more sombre and reflective tone because of the immense grief and mourning felt over the discovery of mass graves at the sites of formal residential institutions in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

These innocent children have brought to light what so many of us have known and spoken about for too long and confronted non-Indigenous people with the widespread neglect, abuse and death perpetrated by state and church officials with little outcry. The sheer shock and horror have prompted growing demands for immediate action and accountability, including implementation of the 94 Calls to Action issued six years ago by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Some of these are concerned with the nationwide search, identification and return of remains. There have also been appeals for Canada to drop the legal battles involving residential school survivors and First Nations children separated from their families due to the underfunding of child welfare and other services. These are all important and necessary steps that need to be taken and have to be situated within the context of the ongoing genocide of Indigenous people in Canada.

Governments, churches and society as a whole have to reckon and atone for this fact. Colleagues, this National Indigenous Peoples Day, which coincides with the summer solstice, is associated with growth and renewal. I stand in strength, unity and pride with my Indigenous brothers and sisters and remain hopeful that the long-overdue and urgent change needed to build a new relationship has begun. The passage of Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, is an example of the small yet significant steps forward made this year, which we must commit to translate into concrete action and outcomes. Wela’lioq. Thank you.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

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