By Ian Croft
On Oct. 23 during a discussion on the Bills of Exchange Act within the House of Commons, Martin Shields, MP for Bow River, rose in the House to voice his viewpoints on turning Orange Shirt Day, Sept. 30, into a national holiday.
“The bill is important and we are putting the onus on five per cent of the population to teach us. Is that the way to do it? We have adults in this country who do not have this education or the opportunity. The Town of Strathmore has done phenomenal work with the Siksika Nation. Many students from both communities, Siksika and Strathmore, go to that school. The drama teacher in that school wrote a phenomenal play called New Blood. It is put on by high school students from Strathmore and Siksika. It needs to be seen far and wide because it would educate adults.”
Shields continued on discussing how the lack of funding has hindered the spread of this play and more importantly hindered the educational efforts of Canada’s history of residential schools, the importance of reconciliation and, how Indigenous governments function within Canada.
“How are we going to learn it? Are we putting the onus of this bill on five per cent of the population, without resources, to teach the rest of us? That is not going to work.”
“We have a piece of legislation that should be approved. I totally agree that it should be approved. However, where is the backup, in the sense of what the responsibility is to get the education for this to the population? I am not talking about schoolchildren; I am talking about the adult population. Where is it? We are now putting a heavy debt back on the Indigenous people to educate the rest of us by saying, ‘You’ve got a day’.”
Shields stated his agreement with implementing Sep. 30 as a national holiday but also voiced his concerns about how the gov- ernment needs to do more than just making this day a day off work.
“We have to work at the grassroots level, just like the indigenous people understand they need to do with their language. They need to get into their schools and teach their own children their languages to keep their cultures. It is an oral culture. They have passed many things on orally. It is a story culture, from elders to generation to generation, but they are not getting the money.”
“My fear is that we will pass this and we will have a day of recognition. They will be proud to have it, but will the 95 per cent of the rest of Canadians have a clue? That is my fear.”
After Shields’s speech Brenda Shanahan MP for Châteauguay— Lacolle Que. brought up the suggestion of utilizing festivals to help educate the majority of Canadians when it came to Canada’s history with Indigenous people.
“On the question of how we, the 95 per cent, can learn, I wonder if my colleague is aware of the different funding programs that are available at Canadian Heritage.
That is what my city of Châteauguay did in conjunction with Kahnawake, which is our neighbour, in producing a joint festival called “la Fête du maïs”. It has been going on for three years now. It is, of course, cancelled this year, but it has been a tremendous source of mutual education.”
In response to Shanahan’s comment Shields thanked her for her idea but, also brought up that due to certain wording within Canadian law that certain Indigenous groups are unable to request historical artifacts of their ancestors.
“However, I will tell members a problem that we have, the heritage committee has a study and now we have brought it back. Siksika Nation has a world-class place for artifacts called Blackfoot Crossing. The people were trying to get the original clothing of Chief Crowfoot, who signed the original agreement in 1877. It was in a museum in London. They can not get it back because we have legislation that says it has to be a museum that requests it. We have an archaic word in there that does not allow some Indigenous people to bring back artifacts to places on their nations.”
“We need to fix it. Again, I will have it on the heritage committee for a study. We need to change that so these people can have their artifacts, and we do not have to use that archaic word. They have beautiful facilities, but we have to fix that.”
The bill’s status is currently at second reading in the House.