In late-September, I had the opportunity to attend the all-candidates debate at Ktunaxa Nation Gymnasium in Cranbrook.
The four remaining candidates for Kootenay-Columbia, Bill Green (Green Party), Don Johnston (Liberal Party), Wayne Stetski (NDP) and David Wilks (Conservative Party, incumbent MP), were on hand to discuss a number of issues that affect First Nations people in the district and across the country.
Missing from the debate was Libertarian Party candidate Christina Yahn, who only days later, announced she was resigning from the race.
The two candidates that stood out the most in my mind were Green and Johnston. Both candidates had previously worked with First Nations and spoke from personal experiences about what needs to be done to address the issues.
All of the candidates agreed that First Nations people should be allowed to self-govern without the interference of the federal or provincial governments, and should be provided with the resources to do so.
Following the debate, more than a dozen First Nations people stepped up to the microphone to ask the candidates their questions and to raise their concerns.
The most powerful point for me was when a young Aboriginal woman stepped up and started speaking her native tongue.
“I think I got that right,” she said, after she finished. “If I didn’t, it’s your responsibility as my representative at the federal level of government because you’re the people who took my language away from me.”
For nearly 150 years, Aboriginal students were sent to residential schools where they endured countless tales of abuse and “white-washing”; where they were denied to learn about their culture, and where they came from and taught the ways of the white man. Along with their traditions and beliefs, Aboriginal people were stripped of their languages
All candidates agreed about the importance of language and the need to make it so First Nations people had the opportunity to learn their native tongues.
Stetski said that language is essential to every culture, and agreed with the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where its stated that languages need to be revived and continued and that more money needs to be put into that area.
Wilks said the best way to move forward with this issue is to bring a school on reserve and start teaching the culture and language, and to take it a step further and have it set up so that adults who never had the chance to learn their language would then have that right.