A private member’s bill recently introduced by UCP MLA Peter Singh is missing a dark, yet important part of Canadian history, according to the NDP caucus.
The proposed bill asks the legislature to “remember, condemn and prevent genocide” in other countries, but fails to include the documented genocide of Indigenous people right here in Canada, reads a news release sent out by the NDP last Friday.
“We support the recognition of the seven genocides currently listed in the bill, but the mass kidnapping, abuse and murder of Indigenous children in residential schools was also a genocide, and the ongoing murder and disappearance of Indigenous women and girls in Canada is an ongoing genocide,” said Richard Feehan, NDP Opposition Critic for Indigenous Relations, in the news release.
“These are the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls,” he goes on to state.
“It is utterly disgraceful that the UCP is seeking to formally deny that these genocides occurred.”
Feehan adds this is the latest in a series of a “disturbing pattern for this UCP government.”
He points to Premier Jason Kenney’s hiring of Paul Bunner to write his speeches — a man who the NDP say made a career of suggesting that residential school survivors were selling a “bogus genocide story” for their own gain — as another example of this “disturbing pattern.”
Feehan goes on to illustrate the the appointment of Chris Champion to help rewrite the curriculum — a man who the NDP say argued against teaching the history of residential schools — as a further example of this pattern.
During a committee meeting to review the bill, NDP opposition members recommended the bill be changed to include, “the atrocities committed against Indigenous peoples by colonialism and including the ongoing murder and disappearance of Indigenous women and girls.”
However, that recommendation was voted down by UCP MLAs Michaela Glasgo, Nate Horner, Jeremy Nixon, Joseph Schow and R.J. Sigurdson, along with Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf.
Global News reached out to Neudorf for an interview, but our request was passed on to Minister Rick Wilson’s office instead.
Wilson, the minister of Indigenous Relations sent a statement reading:
“Alberta’s government is strongly against any act of hate towards any group of people and we stand with the victims of these atrocious acts. Instead of focusing on symbolic gestures and abstract definitions, we are taking real, practical steps to make this province a safer and better place to live for Indigenous people.
“We are committed to moving towards true reconciliation and partnership with Indigenous Albertans and standing with them against any form of racism,” the statement continues.
“Our government’s approach to reconciliation is to show meaningful action, or “reconcili-action.” I am proud of the continuous progress that has been made in setting up the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation, so that Indigenous communities can benefit from the responsible resource development of the land beneath their feet.
“We are in constant engagement with First Nations and Métis leaders from across the province to remain partners in prosperity.”
Lethbridge-West NDP MLA Shannon Phillips says Neudorf needs to be held accountable for voting down the recommendation, especially with many of his constituents being Indigenous.
“This private member’s bill is a symbolic gesture, private member’s bills often are, they’re often times expressions of the will of the legislature… and there’s power in that symbolic recognition.”
She goes on to say language deeply matters and that the amendment the NDP is asking for is a simple change to make, and only requires the addition of a few words, yet would hold much significance to it as it would acknowledge the historic and ongoing treatment of Indigenous people on their native land.
The NDP says the UCP is missing a valuable opportunity to acknowledge the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, along with the findings of the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
These findings have suggested that the acknowledgement of the genocide against Indigenous people is an important step towards true reconciliation.
A point echoed by Pamela Bebe, Indigenous relations coordinator for the City of Lethbridge.
“When the report reclaiming power placed its final report on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, it did use the word genocide, almost immediately and then here at the City of Lethbridge, we have put forward 25 recommendations to the mayor and council that we’re working on and we also include the use of the word genocide,” Bebe said.
She adds she’s not getting bogged down by the UCP’s reluctance to openly acknowledge the genocides committed against Indigenous people in this bill, but is instead focusing her attention on local reconciliation efforts being championed by council, Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge.
The NDP says its opposition members have called on the minister of Indigenous Relations several times to endorse the language of the National Inquiry report, which specifically names these “atrocities” as genocide. The party also says the minister has “evaded the question every time.”
“While the minister’s behaviour is disgraceful, it is a far more serious matter for this legislature to formally exclude the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada from our remembrance and condemnation of genocide,” Feehan said.
“If passed in its current form, this bill will be a dangerous step backwards for reconciliation in Alberta,” Feehan stated.
Both NDP and UCP MLA offices told Global News the bill may go before the legislature on Monday for a second reading.
Phillips says the NDP will continue to push for the amendment to the bill.