Message from Michael Gottheil, Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission

(June 21, 2021)

National Indigenous Peoples Day 2021

The Alberta Human Rights Commission is releasing this issue of the Alberta Human Rights Information Service today because it is also the day we are launching our Indigenous Human Rights Strategy. The Strategy was developed and refined with input from Indigenous community organizations and the Alberta public and is something I am very proud to launch.

We are also putting out a call for Expressions of Interest for members of an Indigenous Advisory Circle that will support the Strategy and help us navigate this work in a careful and respectful way. I very much look forward to the establishment of the Advisory Circle and to the implementation of our Indigenous Human Rights Strategy.

In recent months, we started laying the groundwork for this Strategy. We have had preliminary discussions with the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women about supporting their work to battle the systemic racism that underlies disproportionate rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirited people. We have undertaken a review of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice to identify where we can reduce barriers and make our own processes more accessible and meaningful. And we engaged with stakeholders, including Indigenous community organizations, to better understand their experiences with policing and the Police Act in Alberta.

Our desire to take action on Indigenous human rights is only reinforced by recent news out of Kamloops highlighting the painful legacy of Canada's Indian Residential School system. For non-Indigenous Canadians, the dramatic and horrific discovery at the Kamloops Indian Residential School and other residential schools since grabs our attention and reminds us that the history of this country is not without disgrace. For survivors and their descendants, however, no reminder is necessary; the legacy of Canadian "Indian Policy," of which residential schools were just one part, is always present. It is a deep-rooted source of the systemic discrimination against Indigenous Peoples that persists today. The finding of even one missing child who was forcibly institutionalized away from their home and family, never to return, is deeply felt and potentially re-traumatising for Indigenous people. Every child lost to the residential school system had a story. They had parents, grandparents, and other family who loved them, who missed them, and who were robbed. Robbed of the ability to see that child grow up. Robbed of the fundamental dignity and right to say goodbye in cultural protocols and ceremonies.

We must hold fast to the understanding that the past is always with us. It informs and influences both our present and our future. On this National Indigenous Peoples Day, I encourage everyone to do their part to improve their understanding of this difficult history. It is not enough to express sympathy for the grief of the past or the struggles of the present; we have an obligation to take action for a better, more just and compassionate future.

Our vision is a vibrant and inclusive Alberta where the rich diversity of people is celebrated and respected, and where everyone has the opportunity to fully participate in society, free from discrimination.