Time to re-activate standing committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Donaldson says

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VICTORIA — New Democrat aboriginal relations critic Doug Donaldson is calling on Minister John Rustad to take some meaningful steps towards reconciliation with B.C.’s First Nations in the wake of recently released documents pointing to an increase in the number of known deaths of aboriginal children in B.C.’s residential schools.

Donaldson said a good first step would be for the minister to activate the legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, with its mandate including examining biomedical research studies in which students at residential schools – including at the Alberni Indian Residential School – were deliberately kept malnourished. Records released to the Truth and Reconciliation commission indicate that malnourishment was a contributing cause in the deaths of children at these schools.

Donaldson sent a letter to Rustad Thursday outlining his proposal.

“The Assembly of First Nations passed an emergency resolution in July calling on the federal and provincial governments to make sure all the information about these biomedical research experiment is made public,” said Donaldson. “In budget estimates last summer, I offered to co-sign a letter endorsing the recommendation and, although the minister committed to consider the offer and reply, I am still waiting for any response.

“Reconciliation requires full acknowledgement of the wrongs committed in the past,” said Donaldson. “The biomedical experiments at the Alberni Indian Residential School between 1948 and 1952 were only discovered by accident, so we don’t know the full extent of the injustice.

“Having B.C.’s political leaders tasked with finding out the truth would go a long way in showing First Nations that we’re serious about addressing these injustices. It is a critical step in building trust for the future.”

The Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs has been struck every session, but has not been activated since 2001, when the Liberal government used it to discuss the referendum on treaties. Donaldson says its reactivation is long overdue.

“Standing committees allow legislators do vital work, and do it in a non-partisan way,” said Donaldson. “Pursuing real reconciliation is obviously vital work, and this would be a concrete example showing that British Columbia is serious about bridging the divide between the government and First Nations.”

Attachment: rustadletterjan16.pdf