As Canada celebrates 150 years, there are celebrations and ceremonies around British Columbia. But with National Aboriginal Day on June 21, it is also right that we take a moment to recognize that, for many aboriginal people, Canada 150 is a complex and sensitive anniversary.
In order to address what we want the next 150 years to look like, we must learn from the lessons of the past to ensure our children understand the devastation of colonial policies on aboriginal language and culture, and the way the residential school system created inter-generational trauma that still reverberates through communities today.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action are a road map that can help us to acknowledge the past and close the disparities that were created in our society. For decades, aboriginal peoples have struggled to regain the rights that were lost due to colonization. It was 1982 when aboriginal people in Canada had their existing aboriginal and treaty rights recognized under the Constitution Act.
Education drives social change and gives people choices about their future. Aboriginal history, culture and perspectives are now woven into B.C.’s new kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum. It is a work in progress but a step in the right direction and B.C. aboriginal students’ high school completion rate has increased from 39 per cent to 63 per cent in the last 15 years.
It is also vital that we build an education environment where aboriginal youth feel welcome and supported, which is why all B.C. public post-secondary institutions now have aboriginal gathering places to engender a sense of community and belonging to aboriginal students.
Aboriginal leaders have been pushing government to address social and economic issues and rightly so. We shouldn’t shy away from the hard questions aboriginal leaders and communities are asking: questions about rights and title, reconciling our respective jurisdictions, and the implications of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Debate on these issues is important. It makes our relationships more open and stronger.
As people embrace the spirit of National Aboriginal Day, I ask that we all consider our role and responsibility as individuals, as British Columbians and as Canadians, to recognize the legacy of the past and to create a future where equality is the norm, not just an aspiration.
MLA for Nechako Lakes and Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation