Time for words are over: Action needed to create inclusive communities


Grand Chief Stewart Phillip scans reactions to his boycott before speaking to Langara students. Photo Bonnie Lee La Madeleine, all rights reserved.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip has a lot to say about two generations of  Trudeau-leadership, promises, missed chances and reconciliation.

“Reconciliation is becoming a word that’s overused, misused, and that’s misconstrued,” said Stewart Phillip. “It’s become a word of political convenience for both the government of Canada and the province of British Columbia.”

He was speaking in a nearly full auditorium at Langara College, two days after making international headlines for his refusal to join the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the Royal Black Rod Ceremony in the B.C. legislature in late September.

“On the one hand, the Trudeau government has made much of embracing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and it went to NY and made those grandiose statements,” Phillip said. “But, in terms of actually implementing it, they are not moving in any decisive fashion. Reconciliation is the flavour of the month for politicians with no follow through.”

The Grand Chief said that Canada’s national and provincial political leaders need to go beyond lip service and act on their promises. He wants real actions, actions that support meaningful change for First Nations, aboriginals and all Canadians.

Don Bain, executive director at the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said that reconciliation will only happen if the government makes time to do the work.

“To have true reconciliation, you are going to need change how funding is distributed,” Bain said. He would like to see, both on and off the reserve, a concerted effort across the country to bring graduation rates up for First Nation students in secondary and post-secondary schools.

Both men want to see Canadian leaders move beyond spin and photo-ops.

“Governments have to walk to the walk.” said Phillip. “These grandiose symbolic ceremonies convey to the general public a message that things are going very well for the indigenous peoples, aboriginal peoples, in this country.” He said nothing could be further from the truth.

“To participate in a grandiose photo-op sends the wrong the message.”

Phillip said he has advocated for the rights of First Nations and indigenous peoples for almost 50 years. Throughout his pursuit of social justice, he clashed with Federal and provincial leaders repeatedly.

During the first period of “Trudeau-mania”, Phillip said Pierre Trudeau  openly mocked the queen and protocol. Yet, it was Pierre Trudeau, working with Jean Chretien, who drafted a white paper that set out a systematic plan for assimilating First Nations and aboriginal peoples into Canadian society.

Fifty years later, Phillip is now upsetting protocol  with British royals as he waits for Justin Trudeau to do more than talk about truth and reconciliation.

“To participate in a grandiose photo-op sends the wrong the message,” he said.