Today, on National Indigenous Peoples Day, the BCGEU encourages members to reflect on and celebrate the heritage and contributions of Indigenous Canadians. Thank you to all Indigenous members for your work over the years to build our union and serve your communities.
In addition to celebrations, it is also a time to commit to action in decolonization.
The Tk'emlúps First Nation's discovery of 215 bodies at the Kamloops Indian Residential School has once again brought attention to the devastating impacts that Canada's colonial legacy has and continues to have on Indigenous people. As more bodies are found at the sites of other residential schools, the need for real, substantive reconciliation is clear.
Over the last week, our union's Executive Committee and our Provincial Executive Indigenous Advisory Committee have been honoured to join Kwantlen First Nation to burn a sacred fire in honour of the bodies found and the survivors of residential schools. The fire was lit to coincide with our union's constitutional convention, and we are incredibly grateful for the partnership with and welcome from the Kwantlen First Nation:
I was amazed by the sacred fire, and it was a blessing to see other members present. I felt welcomed and at home. I am sure that the 215 children feel the same good energy needed to bring them back to the safety of our communities who are impacted by the residential school.
Verna Benson – BCGEU Indigenous Advisory Committee, Local 403
Being by the sacred fire was so grounding and healing. I also felt honoured for BCGEU and our Indigenous executive to be recognized. And yet, I felt more grateful for the community of Kwantlen First Nation to host our scared fire for the whole week.
Celeste Dunstan – BCGEU Indigenous Advisory Committee, Local 703
Meeting at the sacred fire last night was exactly what I needed. My heart and soul feel lighter. The drumming and singing and the wonderful welcome from Chief Marilyn Gabriel and the elders were so amazing. And the view of the sacred fire against the backdrop of the mountains and the Fraser River was breathtaking.
April Duffield – BCGEU Indigenous Advisory Committee, Local 303
Being welcomed into the community by Hereditary Chief Marilyn Gabriel was such an honor. Her family and community are so strong and accepting. I felt so at peace. I so enjoyed sharing our stories.
I felt the healing of the community was all around us, from the baby to the elders all coming together to share in the healing. I can still hear the crackling of the Sacred Fire, talking to my heart!
Way Lim Limt' (Deepest thanks)
Coralie Gregoire – BCGEU Indigenous Advisory Committee, Local 703
I'm proud that the BCGEU's Provincial Executive Indigenous Advisory Committee has taken a strong leadership role in deepening our relationship with Indigenous nations. I was honoured to be invited and spend time with the Kwantlen nation this last week and want to extend thanks on behalf of the union.
Paul Finch – BCGEU Treasurer
At our convention, BCGEU members committed to continuing our path of reconciliation in a number of ways, including:
- Changing our union's name to the B.C. General Employees' Union removing the term "government", which has negative connotations for many Indigenous people and communities.
- Making a donation to the Orange Shirt Day Society
- Creating a memorial fund to be allocated in collaboration between our Provincial Executive Indigenous Advisory Committee and our Provincial Executive.
- Creating an ongoing campaign to support recommendations from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)
In addition to these steps taken by delegates at convention, Indigenous members have recently formed an Indigenous Advisory Committee to advise our union's Provincial Executive on issues of concern to Indigenous members. The committee will be an integral part of our commitment to the implementation of the TRC's 94 calls to action (passed at our 2017 Convention) and our commitment to work with the B.C. government to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The BCGEU is committed to decolonization and breaking down barriers to participation for Indigenous members in our union. The process of reconciliation is often full of hard truths that may be uncomfortable for non-Indigenous people, but it is essential to engage in this process and take guidance from Indigenous members.
The labour movement is founded on the principles of justice, dignity and respect. We must be leaders in supporting the rights of Indigenous peoples both in society and in the workplace.
Earlier this month, our union's Indigenous Advisory Committee made a statement regarding the discovery at Kamloops Indian Residential School – click here to read that statement and their calls on government: https://www.bcgeu.ca/bcgeu_indigenous_advisory_committee_statement_on_discovery_at_kamloops_indian_residential_school
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