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Walk for Reconciliation

Walk for Reconciliation

ON Sunday, September 22, thousands of people from many cultures braved the torrential downpours common to Vancouver, in order to partake in the Walk for Reconciliation. This walk marked the end of a week of events aimed at reconciliation between indigenous people and all Canadians.

The Reconciliation Week, the sixth of seven national events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, took place at the PNE. On the first day, the Pacific Coliseum venue was packed with crowds of people. People from all over the country and beyond travelled to Vancouver for the week, including many Yukoners from the fourteen First Nations in the territory. I even met a Hopi man from Arizona. Arnold Joe from Pelly Crossing said, “There were students from all over the place, all different schools. Universities cancelled classes so students could come”.

For four days, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission listened to testimonies of survivors of the residential schools funded by the Canadian government and run by churches. There were many displays with information on the national crime against aboriginal people, including the sexual, physical and emotional abuse. There were records of tuberculosis cases in schools, some of which had only a 50 percent survival rate. There were stories of the medication that was being tested on aboriginal children, using them as an experimental group without consent from them or their parents, and stories of children attempting to escape and parents attempting to retrieve their children, only to pay an even greater price. There were stories of children being shampooed with DDT. Unfortunately, the list continues.

However, there were also many tents with various ceremonies that all were welcome to partake in, and tents with amazing aboriginal artwork. Sweet sage smudging could be smelled in the air, singing and drumming could be heard, and the sacred fire was tended to for the entire week. The event t-shirt was sold, which had a Kwakwaka’wakw (from northern Vancouver Island) word meaning “we are all one” printed on it: Namwayut.

The week culminated with the four kilometer walk through downtown on Sunday. Karen Joseph, the executive director of Reconciliation Canada, was worried that the weather would influence the turnout for the event. It was her father, Chief Robert Joseph of the Gwawaenuk Nation, who originally envisioned a walk for reconciliation, dreaming to have ten thousand people participate. The numbers in Vancouver were estimated to be close to 70 thousand. It was a spectacular sight to watch what looked like thousands of brightly coloured mushroom-tops march across the viaduct with BC Place in the background, as people holding umbrellas followed the First Nation dancing and drumming groups leading the walk.

To commence the symbolic walk forward towards a society of acceptance, several speeches were given. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., engaged the crowds in a passionate speech, marking the 50th anniversary of her father’s revolutionary “I have a dream” speech. She emphasized not to forget economic empowerment as part of the way forward, and stated that resolution to the cultural oppression that was experienced by indigenous people will require all sectors to take part.

Justice Murray Sinclair, the chair of the TRC, thanked all of the survivors for sharing their stories over the previous four days in front of a large audience.

“I want you to know that we understand how brave it was for you to stand up before us, and before all the people who were there at the event this week, and talk about those stories, and talk about those pains, and share your tears,” he said. He also thanked them for sharing their stories of resilience and of how they came through it. He referred to reconciliation as a challenge to the whole country:

“… the most important part of it is that Canada must understand that this is not an aboriginal problem,” he said. “This is a Canadian problem.”

Although many agree that the road will not be any easier now, after simply walking the streets of Vancouver in unity one afternoon, hopefully we as Canadians are one step closer to understanding the issues faced by aboriginal people today and why those issues are present. We are hopefully one step closer to resolving their pain and celebrating their resilience and their rich cultures. As Justice Murray Sinclair said, this is a Canadian problem, and one which will require a multi-faceted solution to overcome the fallout of such massive cultural oppression. Namwayut – we are all one.

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May comes to Yukon in September

May comes to Yukon in September

September 22, 2013

KNOWN for her great speeches, Green Party leader Elizabeth May arrived in the Yukon in September. She attracted a good amount of crowd in the Old Fire Hall of Whitehorse on September 20, 2013. All chairs were occupied, late-comers had to stand for about two hours to listen to her. That’s the magic May has.

Dressed in all black, May’s face shined and smiled as she went to the podium.

After a lot of clapping, there was all silence.

May broke the silence with her wonderful speech.

“Healthy democracy starts with healthy participation of people.” May emphasized that involvement of the public is very important to build a stronger democracy in Canada. She said that the connection between the government and the people could only be strengthened when people feel that their vote is making a significant amount of difference.

May comes to Yukon in September | Photo: Gurdeep Pandher
May comes to Yukon in September | Photo: Gurdeep Pandher

Giving as an example of lack of participation in voting by people in Canada during the last election, she said, “There was no fear of terrorist attacks, there was no fear of any other harm, but still the people of Canada stayed at their homes and didn’t go out to vote.”

May is highly critical of the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) in Canada.

“There wasn’t such a thing as a powerful Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) until Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister, but since 1940, there has been an office to coordinate the civil service, the Privy Council Office (PCO).”

She said that Stephan Harper thinks that he was the prime minister. She stated, “This is not the government of Stephan Harper. He thinks this is his government. In fact we have a government of the people”.

On the issue of parliament reforms, she said that we need such a democracy where the people are the bosses. She is in favor of electoral and parliamentary reforms in Canada.

“Nearly one million Canadians voted for the Green Party in the last federal election without electing a single Green MP. Our electoral system unfairly punishes Conservative voters in cities, Liberal and NDP voters in the west, and Green voters throughout Canada.”

May comes to Yukon in September | Photo: Gurdeep Pandher
May comes to Yukon in September | Photo: Gurdeep Pandher

On international-affairs, she was highly critical of the proposal of selling out Canada to China in the Canada-China Investment Treaty.

“The Canada-China Investment Treaty allows Chinese companies (including state-owned enterprises) to sue the the government of Canada over decisions that can limit or reduce their expectation of profits. China can claim damages against Canada for decisions at the municipal, provincial, territorial or federal level. Even decisions of our courts can give rise to damages. The damage claims start with six months of diplomatic negotiation. If that fails, damage claims move to arbitration – behind closed doors.”

May said that she broke many principles of politics. “In politics you are supposed to speak lies, but I broke this rule by letting the Canadians know the truth,” she said.

She said that although she is the only MP from her party, she gets a chance to speak in the parliament more times than any other MP from other parties. She said that she has many friends from other parties.

May said she believes in working together for Canada despite conflicting political views.