Episode 47, Season 10
Sunday 3 October 2021
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Roseanne Archibald, AFN National Chief
Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Dr. Susan Shaw, Chief Medical Officer, Saskatchewan Health Authority
Location: Ottawa, ON
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: Walking the Road to Reconciliation. Canada reflects on its colonial heritage amid demands to do better.
Roseanne Archibald, AFN National Chief: “Empty promises and empty apologies will no longer be accepted.”
unknown voice: “Why not personally, sir?”
Mercedes StephensonPrime Minister Justin Trudeau is under criticism for his Tofino vacation time.
unknown voice: “He invited you“
Mercedes Stephenson: First Assembly of Nations national chief Roseanne Archibald joins us. Plus, less talk, more action.
Greta Thunberg, climate activist: “Now they’ve had 30 years of ‘blah, blah, blah’ and where has that taken us?”
Mercedes Stephenson: Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson joins us at the International Climate Conference in Milan.
And canceled treatments, surgeries and organ donations…
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Chief Medical Health Officer: “At the present rate it will be a fall and winter of misery.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Chief Medical Officer of the Saskatchewan Health Authority on the state of the province’s COVID crisis.
October 3 is a Sundaythird, and this is The West Block.
Hello, I am Mercedes Stephenson. Thank you for joining us on the show.
2021 has been a year of reckoning for Canadians when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous people in this country and the devastating impact of residential schools.
Earlier this year more than 1,300 children were found in unmarked graves. Survivors say thousands more graves are yet to be found.
Thursday was the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which encouraged Canadians to pause and reflect on the impact of colonialism on indigenous peoples. Celebrations were held across the country, including in Kamloops, where 215 unmarked graves were confirmed in a former residential school earlier this year.
Joining us now to talk about this is Roseanne Archibald, national head of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). National Chief Archibald, thank you very much for joining us today. Since you have been elected as the National President, this is the first time we have had the opportunity to speak to you. With the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation a very important day for Indigenous Canadians this week, what did it mean for you and your family?
Roseanne Archibald, AFN National Chief: It was a really tough day, and it’s a tough day for the survivors. And we still have many survivors who are alive and living in communities, and it’s a tough day for them because they get traumatized again and, you know, they have to be in those institutions of assimilation and genocide. You will have to deal with some complex emotional repercussions. . And so I spent the day here at Tk’emlups te Secwepemc in the interior of BC – invited by Chief Rosanne Casimir over the summer – promising him that I would return to honor survivors and intergenerational trauma survivors and So I was really happy to be able to be here for the day.
In terms of my family, though, just to continue, I have—I shared a personal story on my social media and I shared it at the event as well and, you know, it’s not ancient history. Eight members of my family, including my parents and my siblings, went to institutions of assimilation and genocide. I don’t call them schools anymore, because the school I went to didn’t have a cemetery. I was the first person in my family not to be forced to attend and so I want people to know that even though the government policy creating these institutions was over 100 years old, the last one closed in 1996 Which was not so long ago.
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s astounding, and it’s something that so many Canadians think happened 100 years ago. No, it was still something happening in the 1990s. There are still many left who are young and are still with us. You mentioned the function in Kamloops. Chief Casimir had also invited the Prime Minister to attend it. He was talking with the survivors of the residential school, but he also went on vacation with his family to Tofino on the Day of National Truth and Reconciliation. What was your reaction to his decision?
Roseanne Archibald, AFN National Chief: It has always been, I would say, the hard part of creating such a statutory holiday is that people will see it as a holiday and they will focus on the idea of a holiday when really what we people should be doing on the day with us. Had to stand, you know, for solemn ceremonies and prayers, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with the survivors and take that time to reflect on the fact that genocide has happened here in Canada. And so when you go on vacation, on that special day it hurts so much for the survivors and the survivors of inter-generational trauma.
Mercedes Stephenson: Have you had the opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister about that decision?
Mercedes Stephenson: Are you concerned about what the lack of direct access means in terms of a commitment to honesty on reconciliation or are you sure of the government’s position on that?
Roseanne Archibald, AFN National Chief: There is a lot to, you know, double talk with this government. They talk about being committed to our children and moving on, yet they fought us in court for years. They fought with our children in court. So you can’t do two things at the same time. I mean, you have your words and actions have to align. So when the Prime Minister talks of reconciliation, please, you know, don’t go on holiday on the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. Attend an event the day before, not the day before. This would be more in line with his genuine commitment to reconciliation.
The other thing I noticed is that the Prime Minister doesn’t say much, he doesn’t talk about truth and reconciliation. And before reconciliation there must be truth. You know, the truths are really hard and they are harsh. The fact that these were institutions of assimilation and genocide, and the fact that there was genocide in Canada and our young children were the victims, is a fact that this government and we all have to face together, but just stand up. Not for there and sort of, you know, don’t proceed. We have to find out what we call the treatment path forward and my only hope from this Prime Minister and the cabinet is that there will be a convergence in their approach. So if they say they are committed to reconciliation then follow the path of healing with us. For example, I just saw that in the US they are starting a new commission called the Commission for Truth and Healing and I think that’s a fitting highlight for what we need to do in this country. . It’s about healing. Reconciliation must focus on healing not only for First Nations, but also for all Canadians, non-Indigenous Canadians.