By Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller
June is National Indigenous History Month and June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.
It is especially important that we recognize these events this year after the uncovering of the remains of 215 children at the residential school in Kamloops, BC. Sadly, we know that this site is not the only place children were buried in unmarked graves. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) estimated that at least 426 children who attended Indian Residential Schools in Ontario are known to have died, while an unknown number are still missing. The remains located in Kamloops serve as a reminder that we need to work together to address the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford have committed $10 million to support an Indigenous-led process to identify, investigate, protect, and commemorate burial sites at former residential schools across Ontario. Ontario will also provide provincial resources such as the office of the Chief Coroner and support First Nations communities with culturally appropriate mental health supports.
Locating and commemorating these burial sites is one of the calls to action in the report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I took some time to look back through the other calls to action and I want to highlight a few other things Ontario is working on.
The first few calls to action were with regard to reducing the number of Indigenous children in the child welfare system, ensuring there were Indigenous-led child welfare services, and ensuring that child welfare workers would be sensitive to the history of residential schools. Through Ontario’s Child Welfare Redesign Strategy our government is addressing the overrepresentation of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children and youth in the child welfare system.
Locally, on April 1 of this year Ontario announced that Niijaansinaanik Child and Family Services had been designated as the province’s 13th Indigenous children’s aid society. The official designation will enable Niijaansinaanik Child and Family Services to provide culturally based services and supports to Indigenous children and families in the Districts of Nipissing and Parry Sound, and the City of Greater Sudbury.
Ontario is also working to protect vulnerable populations including Indigenous women and youth. Our government’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy includes Indigenous-specific resources and increased funding for the Anti-Human Trafficking Indigenous-led Initiatives Fund. We have also established an Indigenous Women’s Advisory Council to provide culturally relevant advice, expertise, and input on issues such as human trafficking and child, youth, and family well-being.
In response to Call to Action 57, Ontario has been providing Indigenous Cultural Competency Training for members of the provincial civil service. As of December 2020, approximately 70 per cent of Ontario Public Service employees have been registered in the program. As well, the Community Safety and Policing Act, 2019 mandates human rights, systemic racism, diversity, and Indigenous training for new police officers, special constables and police service board members.
There are a number of calls to action with regard to ensuring the healthcare system respects Indigenous cultures and traditions and that Indigenous individuals receive equal access to health care services. In line with the province’s Roadmap to Wellness: A Plan to Build Ontario’s Mental Health and Addictions System released in March 2020, Ontario is funding culturally appropriate mental health and well-being services and supports for Indigenous individuals and communities across Ontario. Specifically, Ontario has committed more than $12 million annually to expand services to address the mental health and addictions needs of Indigenous people, families, and communities.
Our government has been working hard to increase opportunities for employment among the Indigenous community and has started to implement resource revenue sharing with Indigenous partners, including in the mining, forestry, and aggregates sectors.
Ontario has invested $37.5 million in funding for 2020-21 in projects that support economic development for Indigenous people. The programs support training, job creation, community infrastructure, and consultation capacity in communities. And just last week the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development announced an investment of $500,000 in a one-year program to be run by the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries and the First Nations Power Authority to train Indigenous individuals for in-demand careers in the skilled trades such as boilermaker, electrician, and welder.
Again, the uncovering of the burial grounds in Kamloops has reminded us all of our responsibilities and accountability to the Indigenous peoples of this country. It serves as renewed call to honour our commitment to implement the calls to action. The work towards reconciliation is far from complete but I am pleased that our government is investing in responding to the calls to action, in particular the call to identify and commemorate the unmarked graves of children who never came home from a residential school. I am committed to listening and learning about the impacts that residential schools have had on First Nations communities and I will encourage our government to continue work to address more of the calls to action.
Photo of MPP Norm Miller is courtesy of his office. Queen’s Park photo “June 2012 Ontario Legislature Toronto” by Priscilla Jordão, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.
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