MyWawa will publish statments from speakers during this morning’s ceremonies at the Ontario Legislature as they become available.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise today to express a personal commitment as Premier — and the commitment of the government of Ontario — to being full partners with Indigenous Peoples on our journey towards reconciliation and healing.
I first want to thank the other parties for their co-operation in convening this special assembly and recognize those whose presence makes today a historic and hopeful occasion:
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day and other Chiefs in attendance; Métis Nation of Ontario President, Margaret Froh; Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres President, Sheila McMahon; President of the Ontario Native Women’s Association and of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Dawn Lavell-Harvard; Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President, Natan Obed; Cree Elder and residential school survivor, Andrew Wesley; and all of the residential school survivors, Indigenous leaders and youth who are here today. I also want to thank Elder Jim Dumont for his opening prayer with Elder Shelley Charles and Métis Senator Verna Porter-Brunelle, who will provide a closing prayer.
Indigenous Peoples are the original occupants of this land we call Ontario and, over thousands of years, they developed distinct languages, cultures, economies and ways of life. This long history means that we’re assembled in a sacred and traditional gathering place for many peoples of Turtle Island. I want to show respect for this by acknowledging that we’re on the traditional territory of several Indigenous Nations and pay special recognition to the Mississaugas of the New Credit, and by recognizing the history and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.
Our shared history begins around 400 years ago. When Europeans first arrived, the generous partnership of Indigenous Peoples helped them establish profitable enterprises and settlements. In 1763, the Royal Proclamation confirmed the original occupancy of Indigenous Peoples and paved the way for nation-to-nation treaties between the British Crown and Indigenous Peoples. Treaties were negotiated and signed with the intent of delivering mutual benefits.
In Ontario, most of this happened hundreds of years ago. To some, seven generations ago can seem disconnected. Yet we know that our history is always shaping our present. And for some of us, treaties are part of the history that shapes our prosperity. Treaties granted us land to live on and water to drink. They are the foundation on which the short history of our country has carried forward — a history in which every generation has built a better life by building on the achievements of the past.
But it’s only one side of our story. For Indigenous people in Ontario, this same history created a very different reality. Despite the promise of early treaties and the respectful, nation-to-nation partnerships they established, Indigenous Peoples became the target of colonial policies designed to exploit, assimilate and eradicate them. Based on racism, violence and deceit, these policies were devastatingly effective. They disempowered individuals and disenfranchised entire communities. When Canada became a country 149 years ago, the legacy of violent colonialism only gathered momentum.
From coast-to-coast-to-coast, the residential school system set out to “take the Indian out of the child,” by removing Indigenous children from their homes and systematically stripping them of their languages, cultures, laws and rights. Children were physically, emotionally and sexually abused. Many died.
These heartbreaking stories are hard to hear. For generations of Indigenous people, these stories were their lives. Canada’s residential schools are closed, but they have been closed for not even one generation. Echoes of their racist, colonial attitudes can still be heard. And the echoes of a society-wide, intergenerational effort of cultural genocide continue to reverberate loudly and painfully in the lives of Indigenous people today.
However we measure a person’s opportunity and security in life, a disturbing gap exists between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population. It is the gap created by a country that abused and betrayed its Indigenous Peoples. It is a gap that swallows lives and extinguishes hope across generations. For a long time, Indigenous Peoples’ calls for justice could not be heard across this yawning gulf because Canada did not want to hear them. It is thanks to the resiliency of those who endured the abuses of the past that we are finally listening.
Thank you for finding the strength and courage to come forward and tell your stories — and the stories of those who were lost. In opening our eyes, you have given us this chance to move forward as partners and the opportunity to say we are sorry. So before I go on, I want to show my respect for all the survivors and all the victims by offering a formal apology for the abuses of the past.
As Premier, I apologize for the policies and practices supported by past Ontario governments and for the harm they caused. I apologize for the province’s silence in the face of abuses and deaths at residential schools. And I apologize for the fact that the residential schools are only one example of systemic, intergenerational injustices inflicted upon Indigenous communities throughout Canada.
By adopting policies designed to eradicate your cultures and extinguish your rightful claims, previous generations set in motion a force so destructive that its impact continues to reverberate in our time. And so I want to apologize for all of this by saying I am sorry for the continued harm that generations of abuse is causing to Indigenous communities, families and individuals.
No apology changes the past, nor can the act of apology alone change the future. In making this apology, as in making the Political Accord last summer, I hope to demonstrate our government’s commitment to changing the future by building relationships based on trust, respect and Indigenous Peoples’ inherent right to self-government. The act of apology is not the end, nor is it the beginning. It is but one step on the journey to reconciliation and healing that we are committed to walking together.
Last year at this time, we took one of these steps when Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission held its closing ceremonies in Ottawa. I was honoured to participate in the Walk for Reconciliation. I want to thank Justice and now Senator Murray Sinclair, the Commission, and all the survivors who participated for helping illuminate a dark past, for honouring all those who lost their lives and for pointing the way forward.
Ontario has already taken first steps on this journey forward. They are highlighted in The Journey Together, the report we are releasing today. It outlines how Ontario is further responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings and calls to action.
Today, Ontario commits to working in partnership with Indigenous leaders and their communities to undertake 26 new initiatives that will help build trust and respect into our relationships and build opportunity and security into the lives of Indigenous people. These next steps begin, as I have today, with efforts to help everyone in our province understand the truth about our history.
We will educate all Ontarians about the horrors of the residential school system, the betrayals of past governments and our rights and responsibilities as treaty people — because in Ontario, we are all treaty people. This will include the work we are doing to ensure our education curriculum teaches every child in Ontario the truth about our past and what it means for all of us today.
In addition to further actions to commemorate victims and educate Ontarians, Minister Zimmer intends to introduce legislation today that would declare the first week of November as Treaties Recognition Week.
The Journey Together also introduces and enhances programs focused on closing opportunity gaps and ending intergenerational cycles of trauma. It guides our actions to enhance Indigenous voices in the administration of justice, and build a justice system that is responsive to Indigenous legal principles, autonomy and cultures. And because Indigenous languages and cultures are critical to the well-being of communities and to reconciliation itself, we will take a number of actions to support Indigenous communities in protecting and promoting traditional knowledge, languages and oral histories. Finally, we will rename The Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.
The commitments Ontario is making in The Journey Together are supported with an investment of more than $250 million over the next three years. But funding commitments alone cannot undo generations of racism and abuse.
To do that, we truly need to learn from our past, which is why our programs and actions will be developed and evaluated in close partnership with our Indigenous communities — openly and respectfully. We are also working to incorporate Indigenous elder and youth perspectives into decision-making across government, because reconciliation cannot be compartmentalized. It is a society- and government-wide journey. And so we will also work closely with Canada’s federal government, whose commitments to reconciliation are encouraging and vital to our success.
We understand that there will be setbacks as we walk this road, unlearn the patterns of previous generations and replace them with new, healthy relationships. But setbacks will not weaken our resolve to walk together to a place of trust, accommodation and friendship. We do not approach reconciliation as something we need to get over with — we approach it as something we need to get right.
Mr. Speaker, Indigenous partners, my fellow Ontarians — there is no more denying the past or hiding from the truth. The duty owed to Indigenous partners is enshrined in our laws and in our values as Canadians.
Building trusting, respectful relationships with Indigenous Peoples and taking steps to end intergenerational cycles of trauma and inequality — this is our present task. One day, it will be history.
With the steps we are taking together to build a country that lives up to its laws, its values and its reputation as a force for good in the world — we are walking a path that connects us across generations. We are undoing the harm caused by our past, and building a society where future generations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous can walk together as equals — living in peace and harmony on the land we now share.
Walking this journey together, we will not fail.
Chi miigwetch; Nia:wen; Marsi; Merci; Thank you.
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day:
“Today, we journey together toward the Restoration of the rights originally recognized through sacred and binding Treaties with our Ancestors; and Reparation of lives of First Nation People damaged by Indian Residential Schools in Ontario.
We are here today on the traditional land of the Mississaugas of New Credit. This is a land walked upon and shared by so many Peoples from so many Indigenous Nations. We are the Anishinabek, Mushkegowuk, Onkwehonwe, and Lenape — the First Peoples of Turtle Island. This is our land — Ontario – land of blue waters.
We stand here today in the presence of the Spirits of our ancestors. In the presence of the Spirits of those leaders who signed the Treaty of Niagara in 1764; the Lake Superior and Lake Huron Treaties, the Williams Treaties, and the numbered Treaties; and in the presence of the Chiefs and Grand Chiefs who are descendants, and who represent this unbroken line connecting our Peoples to this present day relationship with the originating colonists – the Ontario Citizen today; and the settler kin of the Métis People.
We also stand in the presence of the troubled Spirits of our children, our youth, our sisters, mothers and grandmothers. Far too many have taken their lives – or have had their lives stolen. Far too many continue to suffer under poverty and despair not of their choosing – not of their wish or desire but as a sustained result of colonization deception of Peace and Friendship – unfortunately here in the province of Ontario.
As we stand in the presence of our Residential School survivors; we are reminded of a system meant to kill the Indian in the child. Not only have they suffered unspeakable abuse, their children and grandchildren have also suffered. How terribly sad, that this horrible legacy continues to impact our present generations, as so evident in the current suicide crisis of our children and youth. The vast majority of us as First Nation People across this land can speak of the direct impacts of this dark legacy – yes many of us have lived in the direct darkness and shadows of the evil that was so evident in so many of those schools.
The Indian Act of 1876 formalized the chains of oppression that we as First Nations Peoples continue to struggle to break free of; to this day. Combined colonialism – the Indian Act, along with the full implementation of the Residential School system – would become the malevolent scheme towards the destruction of our humanity.
This colonial force created such a high level of dysfunction and despair for so many generational decades, that its effects continue to impact the wellbeing of our families to this day through intergenerational trauma – a communal post trauma experienced in all First Nations in this province.
We also continue to be subject to policy and legislation that shape and control our lives; the progenies of the Indian Act system – unjustified and unjust jurisdiction against Our People and Our Lands.
The deepness of poverty that continues to kill Our People, this is not right – this has never been right – in a land as rich as Ontario. Our Ancestors did not envision these present horrors when they agreed to share the wealth of the land, – this goes against the original treaties of Peace and Friendship.
Our Peoples were never included in the discussions when vast tracts of our lands, here in Ontario, were illegally sold to immigrants from Europe in order to pay off debts from the War of 1812. If Our Peoples had not been allies in that war, Ontario and Canada, may never have existed. Our Peoples were never part of the discussions when Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia formed Confederation in 1867 – yet today we are subject to a division of powers and not formally welcomed by the federal family on this land – oddly, like an uninvited guest on our own land.
Before 1867, the marginalization of Indigenous Peoples had already begun through discriminatory and inequitable measures. We were already being forced into small reserves. We had begun to lose our rights, traditions, cultures, languages and sustenance to life. We began to lose our children to residential schools. We had become prisoners in our own lands. Canada’s Apartheid – it is real and it is the true subject of Reconciliation in the province today – Premier, members of the Ontario legislature – this is your time to cast a light on a dark and painful history. Let the healing begin!
The Spirit of change is upon us. The Highest Courts of this land tell us the Constitution protects Indigenous ways of life, our culture and our connection to our lands – the Constitution can now affirm and begin to formally recognize, through Reconciliation, Inherent and Treaty rights – never relinquished as the pre-contact and original Indigenous Peoples of this land.
The Political Accord being implemented in Ontario; the commitments of both the Federal and Provincial governments that follows the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action; and the full adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These are all powerful signals of a new relationship based upon equality, restitution, and recognizing our sovereignty as Nations.
Today, we will walk together on a path towards building happy, healthy First Nation communities. We will end the scourge of suicide. We will end the epidemic of missing and murder Indigenous women and girls. We will return Our Children to their Families.
We will work together to build economies – in the Spirit and Intent of the Treaties. We will work together to combat climate change. We will work together to return Ontario to the beauty and bounty that first attracted the settlers to our lands. We will strengthen Indigenous Peoples’ connection to our Mother, Mother Earth.
In conclusion – we must turn our efforts and seek the full involvement and inclusion of our Indian Residential School survivors in all aspects of moving forward; for it is they that have carried the full burden and have experienced the darkness of this history. They must never again feel left out, alone, or abandoned – this process and these investments belong to them.
Today, we move closer to fulfilling the original intent of the Treaties envisioned by our Ancestors,
Premier, and all those present in this legislation house, today, we reclaim our rightful place in Ontario.
May the Creator bless all of you; and may Our Ancestors feel the warmth of reconciliation in this new era of healing.”