June is National Indigenous History Month and June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day. The latter was established 25 years ago as a day to reflect, acknowledge and recognize the First Peoples across the ancestral and unceded territories of Turtle Island. As we all know, they were the original caretakers and keepers of this land. The rich histories, traditions, languages and cultures of Indigenous people have touched every corner of this nation of nations.
This year’s National Indigenous Peoples Day is especially sombre. The uncovering of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Tk’emlúpste te Secwépemc territory has shaken the entire country. It exposed the horrific evils of residential schools and the genocide that happened in our lifetime. Since then, more bodies of children have been found near other former residential schools. The brutal history of residential schools is a reality that Indigenous people have carried with them for generations. The pain and trauma that Indigenous communities across this country are feeling because of the discovery in Kamloops have sent ripples from coast to coast.
This isn’t history. This is a moment in time we all continue to live in. Survivors and impacted families have and continue to walk among us – as union members, colleagues and neighbours.
OPSEU/SEFPO will continue to offer its unwavering solidarity in your journey to seek justice, accountability and reconciliation. It is critical, now more than ever, that the Federal government implement the six recommendations specific to residential schools in the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
OPSEU/SEFPO also supports the various calls to action from Indigenous elders and their communities. This includes the adequate allocation of resources and means to implement all of the 94 recommendations of the TRC. In addition, we applaud the leadership and decisive political will of City of Victoria. The city is honouring the Lekwungen Nation’s call to cancel its Canada Day broadcast. As settlers, as allies, as those who share this land – we have an obligation to use this time to reflect, listen and walk the path to reconciliation unapologetically.
At OPSEU/SEFPO, we know there must be concrete, intentional and Indigenous-led action every day in our union. This begins with acknowledging that Canada was built on colonialism and that we continue to benefit from it to this day in every institution, including in the house of labour. We support efforts to decolonize Canada, support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. The work undertaken and led by the OPSEU/SEFPO Indigenous Circle and its members is fundamental in this very effort. This includes the June 21 campaign that calls on the provincial government to make June 21 a statutory holiday in Ontario: a day for learning and acknowledging the First Peoples of this land.
While our work begins locally and at home, we know we can’t stop there. We have a great collective responsibility to advance reconciliation with the stewards of this land. Today, OPSEU/SEFPO recommits to working together with Indigenous people to right both historical wrongs of the past and to address the wrongs of today. We urge all levels of government to address the ongoing water crisis, the need for adequate funding for on-reserve housing and infrastructure, and call on all governments of all political stripes across this country to respect treaty agreements. We must also immediately address and review the continued discrimination in the criminal justice and child welfare systems that disproportionately affect Indigenous communities.
The path forward is not easy but the choices are simple. We cannot turn away, claim ignorance or be complacent anymore. We all have a role to play in standing up and speaking up – and this is the time to be “Idle No More.”
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
OPSEU/SEFPO Chair, Indigenous Circle
OPSEU/SEFPO Chair, June 21 Campaign