National Leaders Address Senate

Friday, June 12, 2009 at 13:50



Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Phil Fontaine and Kevin Daniels, head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, were amongst the speakers invited to address the Canadian senate yesterday, on the first-year anniversary of the prime minister’s apology to residential school survivors.


Chief Fontaine called on the Canadian government to work with First Nations on achieving fundamental political, economic, legal and moral changes, in order to fulfill the promise of the prime minister’s apology to Indian residential school survivors.


The grand chief expressed gratitude for the government’s $1.9 billion investment in First Nations, in the federal stimulus budget.


However, he also spoke about the dangers that poverty-stricken First Nations face in a recession economy, such as the lack of safe drinking water, overcrowded homes, and diseases such as swine flu.


Fontaine said the government’s lack of commitment to education, child welfare and business investment prevents First Nations’ youth from escaping poverty, and also called for a repeal of the “racist and archaic” Indian Act.


Fontaine called on the government to address these wrongs, in light of the prime minister’s promise of reconciliation.


“Reconciliation has to mean real change for all of our people, in all of the places we choose to live — change that addresses the wrongs in a way that brings all of us closer together,” he said.


“Human rights, hope, opportunity and human flourishing are not the privilege of one group or one segment of Canadian society. It belongs to all of us.”


Fontaine said the apology was an important beginning in freeing all Canadians from our “intolerant past”, but it must be followed up with action.


Meanwhile, Kevin Daniels told the senators that in order for reconciliation to occur between the people groups he represents, and the larger society, there must first be closure on the past.


Daniels talked about the work that is underway on re-building lives shattered by the abuses suffered in the schools.


He shared the story of his own mother, White Bear Woman Standing, who as a child was beaten into a coma for speaking her own language, but survived to receive her payment from the government, as an elder.


Daniels said the chance for Aboriginal leaders to meet face to face with the entire senate, on the one-year anniversary of the apology, is very significant.


“This meeting today, in the senate of Canada, is symbolic of our collective will to build trust and self-confidence, in dealing with authority. It is an opportunity for us to undertake conscious reflection on the work that has been done, and the work that is still before us,” Daniels said.


Daniels said he remains concerned about the political wrangling that has delayed the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as the ongoing delays in survivors’ efforts to get their payments.