MPP Andrea Horwath's Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Report

MPP Leader Andrea Horwath delivered the following response today to the Government of Ontario's apology for brutalities committed for generations at residential schools and the continued harm this abuse has caused to Indigenous cultures, communities, families and individuals.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, Elder Dumont and Elder Charles, Regional Chief Day, President Froh, President Obed, President McMahon, President Dr. Lavell-Harvard, Reverend Wesley and all the indigenous leaders, youth and residential school survivors that have joined us here today. Thank you for being here. Meegwetch.

I want to thank all of the elders, chiefs and guests who are here today in this House on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. There was a time when this House, this province and its institutions were not just complicit but part of authorizing and allowing the most egregious and harmful policies towards First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. For years, governments in this province and in this country did everything they could to ignore and violate the human rights and treaty rights of indigenous peoples, to eliminate cultural practices and to eliminate aboriginal governments, replacing existing forms of aboriginal government and in the process disempowering aboriginal women, who held significant, powerful roles in many First Nations.

Destroy indigenous communities and destroy families. Canada engaged in cultural genocide. As the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Justice Murray Sinclair, writes in the commission’s final report, residential schools are “one of the darkest, most troubling chapters in our nation’s history.” They targeted the most vulnerable people: children. They tried to break the spirit of indigenous peoples, and as Justice Sinclair says, “That any indigenous person survived the culturally crushing experience of the schools is a testament to their resilience and to the determination of those members of their families and communities who struggled to maintain and pass on to them what remain of their diminishing language and traditions.” It is a testament to survivors like Reverend Wesley and to the strength of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples across Canada. And this recognition today in this House is long overdue.

Far too many First Nations communities continue to live without clean, safe drinking water in our province. Today there are at least 133 drinking water advisories in effect in First Nations communities across Canada, and 90 of those drinking water advisories are for First Nations communities right here in Ontario, from Attawapiskat to Curve Lake to Pikangikum and Shoal Lake 40. In this province, children are growing up without safe, clean drinking water. Parents are trying to feed their families with out safe, clean drinking water. Elders are living without safe, clean drinking water, and that’s unacceptable.

It is unacceptable that any family is forced to live without decent housing. And it is unacceptable that so many First Nations communities do not have access to the health care that people need. In this province today there is a state of health emergency in many First Nations communities, a health emergency born of decades of discrimination and neglect but borne out in extreme health inequities and suffering, a severe shortage of physicians and health care providers and medical equipment in First Nations communities and lives that are being cut short by diseases like rheumatic fever, diabetes and hepatitis C.

This is not what should be happening to anyone in Ontario today. So the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report is not just a series of volumes to be read. Ce rapport est un appel à l’action. In fact, it is 94 calls to action, and it is incumbent upon the government and upon all of us to act on those recommendations. They must compel us to move forward on the long journey towards meaningful reconciliation; to build a stronger relationship as equals between the government of Ontario and First Nations, Métis and Inuit governments and peoples; to remember the past and to change the future; and, most importantly, acting on the 94 calls to action means acting with much greater urgency and much greater resolve to address the ongoing impact of racism and discrimination and injustice against indigenous peoples in every form it takes. Frankly, we can no longer allow jurisdictional disputes between the government of Ontario and the government of Canada to serve as an excuse for inaction in the face of the violation of people’s rights.

Today, on behalf of Ontario’s New Democrats, I want to take a moment to express our full support for the apology that has been issued by the government of Ontario and by the Premier this morning. It is an important and long-overdue apology, but it alone is not enough, and I know that she acknowledged that by some of the other commitments that were made along with that apology. We’ll be doing our job to make sure that those commitments are adhered to.

We must all show—all of us—the political will and the determination that exists today to solve the problems that communities face, to ensure that everyone in this province has safe drinking water and safe housing; to clean up lands and rivers that are contaminated with toxins, like the Wabigoon River, that is central to the way of life for the Grassy Narrows First Nation—which can be done, as long as the political will is there; to ensure that women and children and men can all live free of violence; to ensure that every family has access to the health care that they need in their communities; and to ensure that children and youth have access to the opportunities that they need to start their lives and look forward to their own futures.

We owe it to every family that was torn apart. We owe it to every victim and every survivor. We owe it to the future generations to do everything we can to build a future free of racism, discrimination, inequity and injustice.

That is our task moving forward. If we accomplish it over the years, we will have achieved reconciliation. It’ll be a long, difficult journey, but we will take it together. Meegwetch. Merçi beaucoup. Thank you all very much for being here on this historic day.