Remarks at the Survivors’ Flag raising ceremony on Parliament Hill
Thank you, Stephanie, for your words and mostly for your leadership. I know how challenging the past few years has been for so many people and the way you’ve stepped up and gathered stories and shared them and been at the centre of so many important conversations about the work that needs to be done on reconciliation. I’m deeply grateful for everything you have done.
I want to thank Elder Commanda for your welcome into this beautiful territory on this beautiful but very warm day. I want to thank the drummers.
Thank you for starting us off in the right way.
Chief Dylan Whiteduck, thank you for your traditional welcome. And especially to our Elders; Eugene, Levinia, Jimmy, thank you for your words. I know many people will remember your words long after mine have drifted away. As it should be. The stories, the knowledge, the truths you speak are unbelievably important and I am deeply grateful that you are part of it to remind us of all the work we need to continue to do.
To the survivors here today, to their family members and to all those who have joined us here today, thank you.
Thank you also to all the Indigenous leadership that is here today. I’d be remiss not to mention Cassidy Caron, the national leader of the Métis Nation. Thank you all for being part of this here.
I of course also want to greet Ministers Vandal, Miller, Minister Fortier who is here today as well, Parliamentarians, Senators, Members of Parliament. All are here to witness the importance of this day.
I can tell you, our cabinet room is overlooking this flag so we will be able to, as we deliberate on the important path forward of this country, be reminded that every child matters. And the work that we need to do needs to stay front and centre. This flag is going to be a very important thing on this parliamentary precinct.
Before we begin, I of course want to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation, whom we recognize as the caretakers of the land, past, present and future. We are gathered here today to raise the Survivors’ Flag on Parliament Hill together.
This flag is an expression of remembrance. It is meant to honour all survivors and all the lives through the generations that have been, are being and will continue to be impacted by the residential school system. It is an important but humbling moment to be here with you all today as a person charged by Canadians to serve this country through this challenging time on so many levels.
And I am touched once again by the depth of the responsibility that I hold to serve you all well on this path to reconciliation and the work that needs to be done. Residential schools are a shameful part of our history. That is the truth. That’s the truth we must continue to confront, to share, and to be open about.
And that’s the truth, this Survivors’ Flag is going to remind us of every day here on Parliament Hill. Residential schools tried to erase the identity of Indigenous children. Your children.
With the flag, today, what we’re saying is that we always want to remember. We are going to continue listening to the survivors.
It says that we acknowledge the intergenerational trauma these so-called schools have caused and that we commit to continue working together towards a future of healing and partnership.
The Survivors’ Flag also reminds us that reconciliation is the responsibility not just of Indigenous peoples or government, but of all Canadians. It is the duty of all of us to be there for each other, to listen and to learn.
And as such, on this flag that we will be shortly raising, you will see various elements that all Canadians can learn from every time they look at it. On the flag, above the children in the centre, there’s a cedar branch. Well, as Barney, a Nuu-chah-nulth survivor, told us, cedar is used in ceremonies for healing and protection. The cedar depicted in the image has seven branches representing the seven sacred teachings held by many Indigenous cultures, including love, wisdom and respect.
You can also see an eagle feather on the flag and as Phyllis, a survivor explains, in her culture the eagle is responsible for transporting prayers from the physical world to the spiritual world. When a person holds an eagle feather, the Creator is paying attention.
And of course, at the centre of the flag, you can see the children and the families. It’s important that we remember those families who were ripped apart. With the identification of unmarked burial sites across the country, the pain has resurfaced for so many. We are here for you. Survivors and their descendants will continue to guide us now and into the future we build together.
Last month, when His Holiness Pope Francis visited Canada, I sat with survivors to hear his personal apology. I felt the reactions. I saw the impact that it had. As we all know, healing is a long journey and it’s different for everyone. But we must all be part of that. And that’s why I’m so pleased to be here today with all of you, the survivors, leaders, folks from government, busy working hard on this.
But I’m also so pleased that so many folks who swung by Parliament Hill today, perhaps enjoying the last bit of your summer vacation, visiting Ottawa, showing Parliament, your Parliament to your kids are able to participate in the ceremony because reconciliation is not just about Indigenous Canadians and government, while Canadians encourage and watch from a distance. Reconciliation is about each and every one of us who live on this land, who are accountable to the generations that came before and responsible for the generations still to come.
We know that residential schools spent decades teaching Indigenous children that they had no value, that their language had no value, that their culture had no value, and that had a terrible impact on them and on our country. But at the same time, in every single school across the country, non-Indigenous kids -- all of us -- were learning the same thing, that Indigenous cultures, that Indigenous languages, that dangerous identity was less, had less value than what settlers have built.
And that trauma, those teachings, those echoes live with us today still, in ways that need to be reconciled, that need to be faced with truth. As we see a rise in discrimination and intolerance towards so many, the teachings that held Indigenous people to be somewhat less and not in fact more as they should be in this land still echo.
And it’s each of our responsibilities as parents, as community members, as Canadians to be part of reconciliation every single day.
Of course, we still have a lot of work to do and the fact that we are here today shows our desire to continue this journey together as a true partner. We are here to support you, to be by your side and to encourage you. And we will always remember and honour the memory of those who never returned home. This flag that will remind us of that every day. Thank you for being here with us!