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National Day of Reconciliation will stress key Aboriginal issues

B.C. First Nations leaders will use the first annual National Day of Reconciliation in June to press the federal government on unresolved issues facing Aboriginal Peoples across Canada.

“I think essentially what the National Day will give rise to will revolve around the question, how are we doing so far?” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“It’s one thing to offer a long overdue apology, it’s another thing to look at the steps that have been taken to address the crushing poverty on people of this nation,” he said.

The June 11 event coincides with the one-year anniversary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology to First Nations victims of the Indian Residential School System.

First Nations leaders announced today that Canadians are invited to join aboriginal and federal government representatives in Ottawa to celebrate and renew relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities.

“Last year the Prime Minister made a moving and heartfelt apology to residential school survivors on behalf of all Canadians," said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine in a press release. "Now is the time to move forward on the next step in our journey, and that is to enter a new era of reconciliation in Canada.”

B.C. First Nations leaders will attend the event in Ottawa and will represent the issues of the province’s Aboriginal Peoples, Phillip said.

Leaders will call on the federal government to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he said, which outlines the rights of indigenous people around the world and outlaws discrimination against them. It has been adopted by all member nations of the UN except Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

The stalled Truth and Reconciliation Commission will also receive significant attention. The commission was expected to begin last June but has been on hold due to the resignation of both the chairperson and two commissioners.

Phillip said the commission is the most important element in the agreement with Residential School survivors.

“We’re all disappointed with the fact that it ran into problems with operationalizing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. On the other hand we know there still remains a very solid and deep commitment on the part of survivors and leadership and know that it will proceed.”

While no firm plans are in place, B.C. leaders are looking at ways of supporting the National Day both in Ottawa and with regional events to encourage participation and engagement.

“I think that it represents an opportunity for all Canadians, political leaders, and Aboriginal leaders to join together and declare their broad commitment to taking action to resolve the appalling and disgraceful level of poverty in First Nations,” said Phillip. “It will provide opportunity to collectively take ownership of these issues.”

In Ottawa, the day will begin with a sunrise ceremony followed by a symbolic handshake with church leaders and politicians. It will then continue with a march of unity to Parliament Hill where observers will participate in a Round Day, a traditional display of friendship and goodwill.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee.

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