"Building a Better Canada"

Remarks delivered at the August 2017 Banff Forum City Chapter event in Vancouver: 

Good evening everyone, and welcome to this Banff Forum Vancouver City Chapter event. I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered here today as guests on the lands of Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueum peoples. I want to pay my respect to their Elders both past and present, and express my gratitude for our ability to gather tonight in such a beautiful place. I would also like to recognize the courage and resiliency of Survivors and their families, and send my love and strength to the families of the well over 1,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in this country.

As many of you know, my name is Alexander Dirksen, and for the last 3 years served as Operations Manager for the Banff Forum. I am now City Chapter lead for Vancouver, and have recently joined the First Nations Technology Council as Manager of Strategy and Engagement from Reconciliation Canada. A proud member of Métis Nation BC, my family has roots to the Mistawasis Nation in Saskatchewan. I’m fortunate to be a part of the ongoing dialogue around reconciliation across this country, as I believe it is a dialogue that I believe is critical to our future not only as Canadians but as a shared humanity that is grappling with issues of inclusion, respect, understanding and empathy. One needs to look no further than the scenes that unfolded in Charlottesville to see both the challenge that lie before us but also the promise and opportunity that continues to exist intrinsically within the human spirit.

My work within the movement has been deeply personal - as a young Métis leader it has provided me the space to explore my own story as I seek to craft a new narrative for the future of this country.

We are gathered here this evening at a time in which this future and the role of reconciliation within it is increasingly upon the minds of Canadians. With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in 2015, this country has been confronted with difficult truths about our history and our identity, questions that have taken on new urgency this year - at this 150th anniversary of confederation, we must recognize that there is still incredible work to be done to heal, to redress, to revitalize and in some cases, to resist.

For while we have much to celebrate as Canadians, we must acknowledge that for many generations continuing to the present day, we as a country have witnessed the creation of 2 Canadas when it comes to the indicators that we as a country use to measure progress towards the full embodiment of our ideals. For even now, as we mark this year, the lives and trajectories of our young people differ sharply in ways that defy justification or excuse, as they are based not upon merit or worth but upon antiquated perceptions rooted in colonialism from the time of this country’s creation. Indigenous children in Canada are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as non Indigenous children, with 60% of those living on reserve living in poverty. Indigenous children in B.C. are 17 times more likely to live in foster care, while 48% of children in the foster care system nationally are Indigenous despite the fact that they represent 7% of all children in Canada. As Wapekeka First Nation called for mental health support after a suicide pact was discovered amongst youth in their community last year, the Canadian government spent over $700,000 (nearly double the request placed by the Nation) since January 2016 fighting the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s ruling on the Jordan’s principle, which found that the government continues to discriminate in funding for essential services for Indigenous children. This January, as the community continued to call for support, two 12-year old girls, Jolynn Winter and Chantell Fox, took their lives. In the Nishnawbe Aski Nation of which the Wapekeka First Nation is a member there have been 20 suicides to date this year following 17 last year, with the youngest being 10 years old. We can and we must do better.

When people ask “why reconciliation, and why now?” I think of these 2 Canadas, and I think of the responsibility we all have to bring these 2 Canadas together and eliminate these disparities. For this numerical divide translates into real and far reaching impacts on individuals and communities that should not exist in any place, but particularly a place such as Canada. We need to move forward in a way in which all of our young people have equal opportunity to thrive and to live their lives to their full potential.

For me, reconciliation is the continual pursuit of a vision of a better tomorrow, one in which cross-cultural dialogue and understanding and respect and recognition together contribute to true Nation-to-Nation relationships that enable deeper connections and enriched lives for all of us who walk this world together. Reconciliation is a framework that provides space for increased dialogue, reflection and understanding, necessary steps that will begin to move us from where we are to a place of limitless possibilities.

As we look to this future of inclusion, equity and respect, there is no better time for us to be on this collective journey. Everyday Canadians are increasingly committed to walking together on this path - an Environics survey in June of last year found that more than 8 out of 10 Canadians feel that individual Canadians have a role to play in reconciliation. And while actions have largely failed to keep pace with rhetoric on reconciliation in the halls of government thus far, the endorsement of national and international guidelines and principles has provided a rationale we can draw upon to demand progress and hold those in positions of power and influence accountable. The challenge we now face is whether we can draw upon both this widespread support and these guiding documents in a way which produces tangible change within communities.

Which brings us back to today, to those of us gathered in this room. What role can we play in the meaningful advancement of reconciliation? We can each commit to continued learning and growth, for it is through this pursuit that we are better able to articulate to others the urgency of this work in ways which resonate not only with their minds but with their hearts. We can each commit to sharing these learnings and teachings with everyone from loved ones to complete strangers - we need to mobilize as many people as we can to join us in this journey. And we can approach this space with empathy and understanding, recognizing the impacts of intergenerational trauma and of policies and perceptions that continue to attempt to foster divides within our shared humanity.

Reconciliation is real, it is needed, and it is already taking hold across this country. To maintain this momentum, we must all recognize our role to play and our stake in its ultimate success. 

Alexander Dirksen