Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

Jenny Kwan on Bill C-369 National Indigenous Peoples Day

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House today to support not just Bill C-369 but the tireless efforts and tremendous work of my colleague, the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

The member is a Dene woman from Saskatchewan, who served her community as mayor of La Loche for 12 years and worked with the RCMP's aboriginal advisory committee for almost a decade to help build safer communities in the north. She is a role model for all Canadians, especially for young indigenous women across this country. As a passionate advocate, she continues to demand action from government so that the people in her community are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. As an indigenous woman, her consistent and persistent advocacy aims to ensure that the voices of the first peoples are heard.

On this note, the member has brought before us Bill C-369. This bill would make June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, a statutory holiday in Canada. This bill would also fulfill recommendation 80 in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. While I was relieved to hear over the summer that, after months of silence, the Liberal government was ready to support the member's bill, I was truly disappointed that it made a partisan effort to undermine the work of my colleague. In going forward with this approach, the government did not even pause to stop to consult with my colleague on a bill which she brought forward. Throughout our society and history, successive governments have actively sidelined the role and voice of indigenous peoples, particularly indigenous women, and it was very disappointing to see the government continue to do this even while attempting to engage in acts of reconciliation.

I believe it is of utmost importance to continually reflect on the words of the TRC, when it stated, “Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.” This calls for collective actions across communities, across levels of government, across party lines and across Canada for reconciliation and the recognition of the history, rights, cultures and languages of first nations, Métis and Inuit people throughout our country. It is a reminder that reconciliation falls on settler society, not on indigenous people.

Passing Bill C-369 would not tackle all the socio-economic challenges met by indigenous communities, but it would provide a time and space for reflection on Canada's colonial history and its current effects on the rights of first nations, Métis and Inuit communities across the country.

The government has signalled that there are two dates being considered for a statutory holiday and also that changing the name to the national day of truth and reconciliation is being considered. June 21 is a date significant to first nations, Métis and Inuit people and is already established as National Indigenous Peoples Day. It is already marked by celebrations across Canada. It falls on the summer solstice, a date that historically has marked a celebration of indigenous culture and heritage. It is my understanding that the government is thinking about changing the date to September 30, Orange Shirt Day.

While Orange Shirt Day is an important one, a day that first nations, local communities, local governments and schools come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come, I share the concerns of my colleague that by co-opting and renaming National Indigenous Peoples Day as Orange Shirt Day as a day of truth and reconciliation would be harmful to the ongoing project of reconciliation. It would be an act of taking a day of celebration and changing it to a day of recognizing settler violence and apologies. In effect, it would be shifting the focus away from indigenous people and toward settler society. This would undermine the valuable and difficult work under way from coast to coast to coast of indigenous activists in communities, which are tirelessly working to build up and restore indigenous lifeways in Canada.

By extension, recognizing September 30 as a statutory holiday would also further the narrative of violence experienced by indigenous people in Canada. Without doubt, settler societies' understanding of the legacy of residential schools is critical and important. However, continuing to limit the national experience of most Canadians to that of recognizing a day of violence toward indigenous people would do little to empower indigenous communities and to foster an environment in which first nations, Métis and Inuit life ways could grow and flourish.

My riding of Vancouver East is home to the Vancouver Aboriginal Child & Family Services Society and the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society, to name just two of the many important indigenous organizations in my riding. Last year, Freida Gladue of the Family Services Society and Susan Tatoosh of the Friendship Centre Society were interviewed by the Vancouver Sun about making National Indigenous Peoples Day a statutory holiday. Ms. Gladue noted the importance of providing Canadians from all walks of life the opportunity to learn about, experience and participate in the celebrations of indigenous people. She stated, “It should be a stat holiday for everyone. A lot of my friends are calling to say they can't come because they have to work today.”

As most of us may recall, this year the House was sitting on June 21, so like far too many Canadians, I was unable to attend the celebrations in my community because I was here in the House of Commons. Ms. Tatoosh described the importance of the day, stating that it is “a day where we get to promote our pride, our culture and our status as citizens of Canada. We share our culture, our achievements, our culture and dances and through this outreach, we support the concept of reconciliation.”

I do not want to diminish the critical work of reconciliation through the recognition of generations of injustice, mistreatment, discrimination and the further generational impacts of the events that continue to this day. However, that work should not erase the need to acknowledge the beauty of Canada's indigenous peoples, their cultures and languages by honouring and celebrating them.

Promoting and sharing the depth of first peoples' culture and teachings through events that celebrate them helps build bridges between communities. Through this effort, we are moving the goalposts from the notion of tolerance to appreciation, and from appreciation to respect, and from respect to celebration. In doing so, we are working together to change the necessity of preserving indigenous culture from an act of defiance to an act of appreciation, from an act of tightly holding on to one's identity to an act of sharing with others who you are, with open arms. It means creating the space for indigenous cultures in Canada not only to survive, but also to thrive. That in my opinion is what true reconciliation entails.

Establishing June 21 as a statutory holiday across Canada would help provide that space. It is far overdue, and I hope that all members will stand united in taking this step toward reconciliation and support my colleague's bill.

Thank you, Madam Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to this significant moment in our history, a moment to move forward to celebrate and acknowledge our first peoples and the gift they have given to all of us as immigrants, namely, a place to call home and a place to belong. It is absolutely time for us to ensure that the first peoples are equal partners at the table and for all Canadians to understand the importance of first peoples in Canadian history.

Once again, I call on all members to support this bill.

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