"Perspectives on our Shared History"

Opening remarks delivered as moderator for "Perspectives on our Shared History," part of the West Vancouver Public Library's Honouring Reconciliation programming: 

Good evening everyone, and thank you for joining us here today for Perspectives on Our Shared History, a part of the West Vancouver Public Library’s Honouring Reconciliation: Hearing the Truth programming. I want to thank Chris for the powerful welcome and for grounding us in this space together. I would also like to acknowledge that I am a guest upon these unceded territories, and encourage all of us to reflect upon what that means for each of us here today.

A brief overview of our time here together this evening: I will open with some introductory notes to frame the conversation, before turning to our esteemed panel to deliver their opening remarks. From there we will launch into a dialogue between the panellists, but also with the audience - we encourage you to fill out one of the provided cue cards with your questions to join in the conversation. Please share these cards with one of the volunteers, who will collect these questions and bring them to the stage. With that, let us begin… 

On July 1st, 2017, Prime Minister Trudeau addressed the assembled sea of red and white at Parliament Hill on the unceded and traditional territories of the Algonquin Nation. His message struck a now familiar tone, reaffirming the importance of nation to nation relationships and the pursuit of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. It was a far cry from the remark of “ours is a good land” by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson on 100th anniversary of Canadian confederation in 1967, recognition of how much had shifted the few short years following the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in 2015. 

But just how much has truly shifted, and has our commitment to reconciliation been one of the depth required for sustainable and systemic change? Just this week we have seen a number of developments that challenge the optimistic outlook presented by our Prime Minister a few short months ago: 

  • The first report from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released, an inquiry focused upon those whose lives were cut tragically cut short and whose families have yet to receive the closure or justice they deserve. We continue to live in a country that fails to provide all women with respect, dignity and safety, with Indigenous women disproportionately impacted - the interim report released this week noted that Indigenous women make up nearly one quarter of homicide victims in Canada and are 12 times more likely to be missing or murdered than any other women in Canada today.
  • The Supreme Court ruled upon the case brought forward by the Ktunaxa (Tun-ah-hah) Nation on a ski resort to be built upon the sacred site of their Grizzly Bear Spirit. In the ruling, the court found no basis for the recognition of the Nation’s claim the Canadian notion of freedom of religion while denying Indigenous peoples have the right to a veto over development projects. 
  • Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott declared the disproportionate number of Indigenous children currently in the child welfare system a "humanitarian crisis”. There are now more Indigenous children in care than at the height of the residential school system. 

I open with these developments not as a cause to lose hope, but as a means with which to illustrate the real and tangible urgency of this work. We are gathered at a crucial moment in time, for it is at this time, in these spaces, that we must engage in deep and meaningful dialogue around how we mobilize individuals, organizations and communities to make concrete commitments and undertake tangible action to construct true nation to nation relationships and a shared future. 

Nearly 8 out of 10 Canadians believe they have a role to play in reconciliation, and countless Canadians are already beginning to courageously explore how best they can contribute their gifts and strengths to this space. 

Tonight we will explore some of the work that is already taking place and identify where we should direct our energies moving forward.

Alexander Dirksen