It starts with listening

This Spring, I travelled up North to Takla Landing, Fort St. James, Stuart Lake and Vanderhoof.

I went there with Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser to spend time with people in their territory, and to listen. If we’re going to get anywhere near the right approach to reconciliation, it starts with listening.

Takla Landing is a First Nations community north of Prince George. It’s in the heart of Carrier and Sekani territory, and it’s absolutely beautiful. The Fraser, the Skeena and Artic headwaters all start in Takla territory.

Minister Fraser and I were welcomed to Takla Landing with a wonderful celebration and feast.

Chief French told us that housing has been a huge issue in Takla. Elders talked to us about the need for more doctors. Community members talked about the need for better bus service.

And everyone agreed they want a greater say over resource decisions that affect their territory.

In Fort St. James, Minister Fraser and I learned about Nak’albun Elementary School’s cultural program. Students are taught language, foraging, trapping and traditional storytelling. We ate salmon from the smoke house and listened to elders telling traditional stories in the pit house.

We also visited Fort St. James Secondary, a school that serves many small, outlying communities, including Nak’azdli, Tl’azt’en and Yekooche First Nations.

Gretchen Vogelsang is a teacher we met there. She believes every student should have the same opportunity, so she’s created an “assessment for learning” marking system. Every student assigns themselves the grade they believe they deserve. Instead of being given a grade, students own their own learning. It has had a huge impact in outcomes for her students.

While visiting the Tla’azt’en Nation, we met Indigenous youth who made a powerful music video about their culture and the challenges they face. When we spoke with Grand Chief Ed John and members of the Tl’azt’en Nation, it was clear their top concern is the future well-being of these talented youth.

The people I met on this trip blew me away. Their dreams and their struggles motivate me to lead a government that’s working for people.

We’re making reconciliation a priority across government. We’re committed to embracing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court decision — because it’s the right thing to do.

Photos of pictographs (that can be found around Stuart Lake) at the entrance to Nak’albun Elementary in Fort St. James. A reminder that Indigenous people have been living here since time immemorial.

We have taken important first steps in partnership with First Nations. It’s one of the reasons we’ve committed to fund on-reserve housing, which is usually considered a federal matter. And it’s why we’re seriously investing in Indigenous language revitalization programs. We’re working with First Nations to strengthen the role of Indigenous communities in decisions around child welfare. We’re making sure joint decisions are made in emergency situations like wildfires and floods. And we are requiring salmon farms to have signed agreements with First Nations whose territories they operate within by 2022.

Reconciliation isn’t just a word. It takes time and hard work and must last for generations. It needs to be a partnership between equals.

All this work needs to be done in close collaboration with those who stand to benefit most from getting it right, and to lose most if we get it wrong. And there will be mistakes, but I commit to learning from those mistakes. I will continue to spend time in communities, with people, listening to your concerns, and your hopes and dreams for the future, and acknowledging the challenges and disappointments of the past.

Every person in B.C. has a role to play in reconciliation, to work together to build a better future.

The journey is not easy, but it is a journey we are on together.

We start by listening.