Nathan Cullen's speech on supporting First Nations child welfare

Nathan Cullen gave the following speech in the House of Commons on October 27, 2016, on the importance of federal support for First Nations child welfare.

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to say that I will be splitting my time with the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford.

I am searching for the right words. I typically say that it is an honour or pleasure to rise to speak. In my few years here in Parliament, I along with others have stood repeatedly in this place demanding, pleading, insisting on change for first nations children as government after government has found another reason to fail the most vulnerable in our society.

For folks watching, this is a so-called opposition day in which the opposition puts forward a motion on something that we see as a priority. There are many things that we, as a New Democrat caucus, want to put forward. There is oil and diesel fuel spilling over the coast of British Columbia. Where is the Liberal protection plan for our coasts? There is a climate change crisis facing the world, and we have big Liberal promises, yet no plan. There is poverty and inequality, and our economy is performing very weakly. We are continuing to shed manufacturing jobs. These are all important priorities for Canadians.

Yet when we hold up this particular case, when we look at the Human Rights Tribunal decision of earlier this year, is there anything more stark? Is there anything more defining as a moral imperative for a government than when the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal declares definitively that the federal government is prejudiced and running a discriminatory program, a racialized program against the interests of a particular group? In this case, that group is first nations children.

I am trying to remember if this has ever happened to another such distinct group in Canada. Let us imagine if it were another ethnic group in Canada, and the Human Rights Tribunal came forward and said that the federal government was consistently enacting policy that was discriminatory, that was racist towards that group of Canadians. Would it take just one report?

We have had dozens of inquiries, dozens of investigations, and dozens of Human Rights Tribunal reports on the federal government's discriminatory, race-based actions against the interests of first nations children and families.

We have a new government that is now just a year old. We could say that for the first year there were lots of priorities and things to figure out as a government. How does it deal with those different priorities? I just heard the Liberals say that this is a crisis. It is a crisis for the Liberal government. It is a crisis for Canadians.

Let us compare the rate of activity. When the government had to make a decision on a mega dam project in northeastern British Columbia that went against first nations' interest, did it hire an envoy to go out and consult, to understand the different interests and values? No. It just fired up the bulldozer, and 24 hours later the government approved the most environmentally damaging project in Canadian history. There was no special envoy. There was no consultation tour.

When the government went forward to approve a liquefied natural gas plant on the north coast in my riding, which today is subject to a lawsuit in court and is against first nations' rights and title, did the Liberals say they needed to make sure that everyone was on side and that we understood the science? No. The government said we should fire it up and get it done, too.

After months and months, and years, and decades of knowing there is a funding shortfall for first nations kids—which causes real harm and in some cases death to first nations kids—and after the apology on the floor of the House of Commons that all parties agreed to, and after many betrayals, it has come down to this. I use that word very importantly and very specifically, because a betrayal is when a promise has been made and hope has been offered, and then the opposite comes forward. When first nations leaders talk about the betrayal by the federal government, they mean it. It is based on something substantive, important, and real.

After all of that, when it comes to dealing with this crisis, the Liberal response is to hire an envoy who just a few minutes ago said that the NDP's idea and Cindy Blackstock's solution to this is to throw money around like “confetti”. It was the Human Rights Tribunal and Cindy Blackstock, who is renowned throughout the country for fighting for the welfare of first nations children, that told us definitively that the shortfall for first nations kids is $155 million.

Instead, what is the government's response? It congratulates itself and says that it is doing more than could even be expected. Who are Canadians going to believe? Are Canadians going to believe Cindy Blackstock or this Prime Minister, who got a tattoo on his arm to signify how important relations with first nations are? By the the way he technically stole that from the Haida, who are not too pleased about it right now.

No, it is true. To help my Liberal friends out, the Prime Minister of the country had a tattoo put on his arm, which he got off the Internet. It is nice, except that in the Haida tradition, that is theft because he took a sacred Haida design and put it on his body. The Haida have said there is an honour in the fact that the Prime Minister, a high-profile and significant person, has chosen to have Haida ink on his body. However, the Haida interpreted that as meaning a sacred connection, a very important connection.

I have had the privilege for years of spending time with that incredible first nation. The Haida are out today, and the artist who rendered that beautiful piece, saying they feel betrayed by the Prime Minister and no longer feel that him walking, day to day, as he does, around this place and around the world, wearing that significant piece of Haida art is no longer an honouring of the Haida people. We have to give pause on this.

There are day-to-day moments that happen in politics. There are things that come and go in Tweets and hassles, yet there is something deeper and more sacred that we are talking about here today. I have spoken with the various first nations agencies in my riding, the Gitxsan, the Wet'suwet'en, the Carrier Sekani, who despite the lack of resources are doing incredible work with first nations families. Despite long odds, despite almost impossible situations, they are finding ways to connect their young people to culture.

I was in the far north of my riding along the Yukon border and the first nations there, the Taku River Tlingit, the Tahltan, and others, despite the racist policies of federal and provincial governments, have found ways to stop their children being taken into care by outside agencies, to meet the challenges of dependency, the theft of land, and the poverty that comes with that, to restore tradition, culture, and language, and a sense of self, despite all of these things.

Then we stand in the House of Commons today and hear the Liberals say they are different and they pull a muscle patting themselves on the back for the appointment of a special envoy, saying more consultation is the trick after so many years of betrayal, so many years of conclusive reports, after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal made a decision. That is what the motion from the NDP calls for, to simply respect the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and to respect Jordan's principle, which the House passed almost a decade ago.

We ask for that to actually come into force, to be beyond just a motion in the House, that in Canada's Parliament we are going to do more than mouth the words about respect for first nations, more than mouth the words about crises in first nations communities and the crises that children are facing, which are real and horrifying. Rather than just mouth those words, New Democrats thought a good idea would be to tell the truth, shame the devil, and actually put those words into action.

What we hear from the Liberals today is that they cannot vote for this. They cannot implement things that they voted for in the past, and they ask why they would want to do that. They say that first nations should simply trust them because they are Liberals and not Stephen Harper. That is not good enough, my friends. Speeches are not good enough from the government. Photos are not good enough. Showing up at ceremonies is not good enough. A tattoo is not good enough. What is good enough is actually doing what the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ordered the government to do in an unprecedented declaration in January of 2016.

I do not understand, for the life of me, how the Liberals can tell first nations leaders, first nations families, and first nations kids that they care, and yet stand in the House on a day like today, when we have an opportunity to bring into action, to make real that promise, to make real that hope, and say this is good enough and a special envoy should satisfy. I do not know what planet the Liberals are occupying right now.

If they wish to visit with me or on their own, and this is a sincere offer, I will facilitate it and make it happen in my riding in northern British Columbia. If they want to meet the families struggling with these issues, if they want to meet the front-line workers who are, day to day, finding solutions and making a better world possible with limited and almost no funds in some cases, then they are welcome. We humbly offer up the many good examples happening in northern British Columbia, despite the racist policies, despite the discrimination, and despite the continual lack of funding.

There should be no more cynical, “We're funding it and we're going to fund it in the fifth year of our government.” First nations became wise to this a long time ago. The Liberals promised to do things differently. However, when we look at their funding promises the majority of the funding lands after the next election. Is that the best they have?

First nations deserve more. First nations will get more. Let us pass the motion. Let us do the right thing.