Remarks at the signing of the Coordination Agreement with Cowessess First Nation
As a country and as a government, we've been reminded over the last few weeks that the path to reconciliation means recognizing past wrongs and working to do better.
It is shameful that here in Cowessess, and across the country, children died because of the policy of residential schools.
Later today, I’ll be visiting the site of unmarked graves to pay my respects, and sitting down with many of you to hear your stories as survivors.
Canada must acknowledge the truth. We must also understand the truth.
Even as Canadians from coast to coast to coast are shaking their heads and feeling guilty and terrible about the shameful past that we are coming to grips with as a nation. That is something that communities like here in Cowessess have known for years, decades, and generations.
The harm done by residential schools, the broken intergenerational links, the legacy of intergenerational trauma – it continues.
But even as non-Indigenous Canadians reflect on the history of residential schools, they must also reflect on the fact that at the same time, residential schools were teaching Indigenous children that they had no worth, had no value.
That their culture had no worth nor value.
That their languages didn’t matter.
That their traditions were irrelevant.
At the same time, those harmful policies and teachings were inflicted upon generations of proud Indigenous people.
In non-residential schools across the country – ordinary schools . – so called – where non-Indigenous Canadians went to, those same messages – of the lack of value in Indigenous knowledge, traditions, cultures, language – were being spread, were being thought.
And as we talk about reconciliation today, it is not just about Indigenous people and governments who wronged them, although that’s certainly a part of it. It’s also about non-Indigenous Canadians understanding that not only what generations of Canadians were taught was wrong but it was harmful.
And it led to the creation of policies and institutions and ways of doing things in this country that didn’t respect, acknowledge or value the extraordinary strength and worth and contributions of Indigenous people, of Indigenous communities, Indigenous knowledge.
So we have not to just fix the wrongs of residential schools and the impacts on your communities, But the work of reconciliation is work that must be joined by all Canadians.
Because in all our institutions, in all our ways of doing things, the echoes of those wrong-headed teachings resonate in ways that we’re only beginning to come to grips with.
When I see and get to participate in such wonderful moments of community, of celebration, of strength, of culture, of depth, of language, of love, of respect and harmony for nature . These are things that mustn’t just be there for strong Indigenous communities, they must be there for all Canadians to draw on.
The work of reconciliation won’t transform Indigenous communities alone and Indigenous people in Canada alone.
The work of reconciliation must and will transform all of Canada and all Canadians.
That’s the work we have to do together.
And of course, as we do that, it needs to start with children.
That’s the heartbreaking awakening that Canadians have had across the country with the discovery of these graves.
That’s why we’re here today – to do better by this generation and future generations of children and families.
Together with Cowessess First Nation and Saskatchewan, the Government of Canada is signing the first-ever Coordination Agreement under the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children, youth and families.
That has been the work of reconciliation that communities like Cowessess has led on over the past many years that we can come together to sign this today, near weeks after the tragic discoveries.
It’s because over the past years, leaders like chief Cadmus and others have stepped up to help us co-create legislation that recognizes that child and family services that take kids from their communities and remove them from their cultures, from their languages, from their land, is not the path forward that we need to walk as a country.
The kids need to be kept by, protected by, supported by, and taught by their communities.
So we co-developed legislation called C-92. It will insure that as we move forward, kids get the support they need and the protection they need driven by their own communities, in their own languages, in their cultures.
That no kids – finally – will be removed from the communities that they’re a part of. That is the goal, and that is why we are signing the very first agreement all cross the country to start today in Cowessess.
Never again should kids be taken from their homes, families, and communities.
The Act we passed in June 2019 makes sure of that.
To support this agreement, we’re investing $38.7 million for the implementation of the Cowessess First Nation’s Child and Family Services system.
This is an important step forward.
And at the end of the day, it will mean fewer children and youth in care.
Across the country, we are working with other First Nations to reach similar agreements.
My commitment is this: that we will continue to work as a partner with all communities on what they need to keep their children safe and thriving.
When First Nations, Métis and Inuit children grow up in their community, surrounded by their culture and their loved ones, they have more opportunities to thrive and succeed. And I know that is what everyone in Canada wants for all children.
Earlier today, Chief Delorme graciously accepted a braid of sweetgrass in honour of today’s agreement and as my pledge to work in partnership and unity with all groups to make this goal a reality.
We will continue to walk the path of reconciliation and respond to the priorities of Indigenous peoples on child and family services reform.
We will, every step of the way, be there as partners, to focus on what’s best for your children, for all of our children.
Because that’s what they need, and that’s what they deserve.
Again, thank you Cadmus for welcoming me to your community for this really important occasion, not just for Cowessess, but for all of Canada.