The passing of a federal bill commemorating the legacy of the residential school system and creation of a statutory holiday is bitter-sweet for Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya.
In late May, Parliament fast-tracked Bill C-5 to the Senate; then earlier this month, Senators unanimously passed the bill to recognize Sept. 30 as a national day for truth and reconciliation.
The passing of the bill comes after the discovery of the remains of about 215 children on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School by Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation.
While I am ultimately grateful for the non-partisanship displayed with MPs unanimously agreeing to wrap debate on the Bill, I am reminded that this outcome is something I have repeatedly pressed the federal government for,” said Chief Yakeleya in a formal statement. “At a time of such deep mourning for our communities, I can’t help but feel it’s now become a band-aid solution.”
The tragic discovery brought the legacy of residential schools to the forefront of Canada’s consciousness once again, including in the NWT.
Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault first introduced Bill C-5 last September in response Call to Action 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Chief Yakeleya — who holds the residential school portfolio for the Assembly of First Nations — pointed to the Trudeau government’s constant messaging around a “new relationship” with Indigenous people.
“We should not have to find the remains of our children whom we have been telling you have been buried for decades, just to spark a fire in this ‘new relationship’,” he said.
Chief Yakeleya also renewed his call on the federal and territorial governments to support communities in searching other sites of former residential schools. He acknowledged that national days of recognition are important to survivors and communities but they can’t overshadow “immediate action.”
“Our Elders have told us where we can find our lost children. We need to bring them home for their families and their spirits. Let our survivors and Elders lead us on this path.”
NWT Indigenous Peoples Day
The NWT Legislative Assembly wrapped up its summer session last week.
MLAs passed Bill 33: National Indigenous Peoples Day Act, which changes the language of Aboriginal Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.
A summary of the bill says the new name is “more respectful and inclusive of the Dene, Métis and Inuvialuit peoples of the Northwest Territories, and that is consistent with federal and internal naming conventions.”
The day is recognized annually on June 21 in the territory.