Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, today is the sixth anniversary of the historic apology to former students of Indian residential schools. On June 11, 2008, in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Harper said:
Today, we recognize this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country. . . .
The Government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.
The Prime Minister's apology was heartfelt and meaningful. This sentiment, to the Prime Minister's credit, was reinforced at his announcement on the First Nations education bill on February 7 when he said:
In Canada we have never had the system of First Nations education that we truly need.
The federal government, which has the constitutional responsibility for this, has historically veered between a some times disinterested neglect, and at other times, arbitrary decrees.
In 2008 in the House of Commons, I delivered an apology for the worst example of the latter, the policy of Indian residential schools.
At the announcement on February 7, Prime Minister Harper said:
The Act will provide the legislative base required to ensure that youth on reserve have access to the education they need and deserve, one that is portable and meets provincial standards, incorporates Aboriginal language and culture, and ensures the First Nations communities themselves have the primary responsibility for day-to-day management of schools.
Speaking of the youth on reserves, he said:
Their talents and their ambition will be a critical part of the solution to Canada's looming labour shortage.
But without an education . . . in the kind of comparable system that we envision, too many of them will be unemployed or under employed. . . .
By investing in and improving the system of primary and secondary education on reserve, we'll be equipping First Nations youth with the tools they need to benefit from all that this great country has to offer.
After the proposed legislation in Bill C-33 was tabled in Parliament on April 10, there was significant opposition to it by some AFN chiefs. Unfortunately, events escalated rapidly on both sides, and sadly we are left with no path forward for real reconciliation on education. Minister Valcourt has refused to meet with these chiefs and has put the bill on hold.
Mr. Prime Minister, in July 2011, in recognition of your 2008 apology, you were honoured with being inducted into the Kainai Chieftainship and given the Blackfoot name Ninayh' poaksin, Chief Speaker. As an honorary chief who holds a chief's headdress with the highest respect, you are expected to be an available resource to First Nations. I was glad to read that you promised your government would follow the lead of the late Senator Gladstone and work on behalf of all First Nations.
On this day, the anniversary of the Prime Minister's historic apology, and with a National Aboriginal Day approaching on June 21, I appeal to Prime Minister Harper to intervene and break this impasse.
Prime Minister Harper, Chief Speaker, Ninayh' poaksin, on behalf of the First Nations children and youth living on Indian reserves across Canada, I appeal to you to intervene now and convince Minister Valcourt to meet with the AFN chiefs who stated that Bill C-33 needs more work to fulfill the vision and laudable goals for First Nation education that you announced on February 7.