May 02, 2018

Reconciliation: Vital for B.C. and our union’s future

Reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous people ought to be one of the highest priorities for governments and organizations across the country. Here in B.C., that high priority need has been recognized by the new provincial government under Premier John Horgan.

Each cabinet minister in the new BC NDP government received “mandate” letters from the premier outlining their respective responsibilities, including the requirement that they work to implement the Calls to Action from the former Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

A mandate for action

I think it’s worthwhile to read the full text of the reconciliation section of the mandate letters. In July, Premier Horgan told his new Cabinet Ministers this:

“As part of our commitment to true, lasting reconciliation with First Nations in British Columbia our government will be fully adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As minister, you are responsible for moving forward on the calls to action and reviewing policies, programs, and legislation to determine how to bring the principles of the declaration into action in British Columbia.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Justice Murray Sinclair, issued 94 Calls to Action in its final report. The Commission was created in 2008 to document the history of the residential schools, a shameful chapter in our country’s history. Thousands of indigenous children were removed from their families’ homes and forced to live away from their language, culture and communities. Many of them never returned home.

Generations later, survivors of residential schools are still experiencing serious trauma as a result of this, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was intended to give those victims voice while honouring those who can no longer speak.

It’s obvious that government has both a responsibility and the ability to work towards reconciliation. But what about an organization like CUPE BC? How do we join in the struggle for true reconciliation?

Proving our commitment

Reconciliation advocates tell us that one of the most important actions non-Indigenous Canadians can take is to listen to the voices of those whose lives have been most impacted by residential schools—and to make space for those voices. One way we can do this is through our Indigenous Workers Committee, established following Convention last year along with those for Workers of Colour, Persons with Disabilities, and Pink Triangle (LGBTQ2+) Workers.

We can also work to build greater understanding of the importance of reconciliation to our province.  An essential first step is to acknowledge that the land on which we live, work and play remains the unceded traditional territory of the First Nations that lived here for thousands of years before settlers arrived. We always open our conventions with such an acknowledgment, as well as an Indigenous Welcome from the host nation. And CUPE BC’s executive board meetings also now begin with an acknowledgment of the territory on which we meet. From this issue onward, you will also find this acknowledgment on Public Employee’s masthead on the inside back cover.

While these actions are largely symbolic, I believe it’s essential for a union that’s committed to reconciliation to promote understanding, awareness and action towards true reconciliation in B.C. To that end, we provided a video camera at Convention for delegates to share their thoughts on what reconciliation means to them and what actions they can take to help achieve it.

I also encourage all members to learn more at the website of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation:

Paul Faoro is president of CUPE BC, British Columbia’s largest union, representing 87,000 workers delivering important public services in communities across the province.

COPE 491