In the House

Canada 150th

D. Donaldson: I thank the member for Vancouver-Langara for introducing his private member's motion: "Be it resolved that this House join with British Columbians in celebrating the upcoming 150th birthday of our great country — Canada."

We only each have about five minutes to address this motion, and it's a big topic — this celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary.

I'll begin with the fact that the southern part of Stikine is about 1,000 kilometres north of Victoria and 4,000 kilometres from Ottawa. So it's understandable that many in Stikine can feel they are on the fringes of Canada and B.C. — sometimes just an afterthought when decisions are being made.

It would be a mistake to conclude that those in Stikine don't share many of the values that we wish to define ourselves as Canadians: fairness; justice; the belief that money should not be able to buy influence; and the belief that our government should work for all the people, not just an elite few.

Canada is a young country, and B.C. is even younger. We have much to be thankful for. Freedom of association. Freedom of religion. Freedom of expression. Freedom not to be discriminated against based on race, spiritual beliefs or sexual orientation.

On this 150th anniversary, we have much to answer for as a nation and as a province in our relationship with aboriginal people. Two areas are top of mind when I reflect on Stikine: the topic of aboriginal title and the treatment of aboriginal children.

We all know that the land in Stikine was occupied and used by First Nations for generations before non-aboriginals arrived. It was never ceded to the Crown in formal agreements, like treaties. The land that generated the wealth that has built Canadian and B.C. society and institutions was never given up by most B.C. First Nations. That wealth was never and is still not shared in a manner that recognizes it came from unceded lands.

In Stikine, we all live on the unceded lands of the Tlingit, Kaska, Tahltan, Gitanyow, Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en. How the federal and provincial governments address unresolved land title and the injustices it has created has huge implications on how we view ourselves as B.C.'ers and Canadians.

In the instance of the Tsilhqot'in court case, the current provincial government spent millions of dollars arguing against aboriginal title, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where they lost. The MLA team I belong to endorses the Tsilhqot'in decision on aboriginal title and the principles of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. This is an approach that will lead to more certainty regarding unceded territories, and therefore, greater benefits for all living on those lands and for all Canadians.

The health of aboriginal children is linked to those lands. Just last year, Cindy Blackstock, from the Gitxsan Nation, won a nine-year battle in front of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which found that Canada discriminates against children on reserves by not providing the same level of funding compared to what provinces provide to kids living off reserve. "Less funding for family support translates into more children ending up in the child welfare system," the tribunal stated.

For her advocacy, Ms. Blackstock — a respected researcher and academic — was harassed to such a degree by the Canadian government during the process that she was awarded a cash settlement by the tribunal, acknowledging the wilful and reckless conduct of the federal ministry of aboriginal affairs staff.

Again, I am very happy to be an MLA, part of a team, that accepts and will act on all 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report. The calls to action are one way to address the legacy of residential schools and most are focused on supporting children and families.

Canada is 150 years old. We should use the occasion to reflect on the injustices encountered by First Nations, Métis and Inuit in their dealings with Canada and B.C. during the last 150 years — injustices that continue today.

Given that, we should celebrate that what is great about Canada and B.C. is the fact that we still have First Nations who are willing to move forward with us, together, to build a better place. For that, I am grateful.

Let's make ourselves proud that Canada 150 became the time that we understood the past, acknowledged the present and acted together on a better future.