CEO statement for National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

Before Reconciliation, there must be Truth, Elder Fred Kelly once shared with me. What is the Truth that we at Legal Aid BC (LABC) need to acknowledge? What are we doing wrong? How can we accelerate our decolonization and Reconciliation work to eliminate this harm? 

Being financially dependent on, and embedded within, institutions that carried out genocide against our justice-deserving clients challenges us strategically, operationally, and individually every day. 

In this third year of commemorating the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we remember the children lost and honour the Survivors of residential schools, and the legacy of intergenerational trauma which significantly defines our operating reality. 

Phyllis Webstad fought for a day of commemoration to deepen our awareness and understanding of our shared colonized history and reflect on its ongoing impact on our country. When we reflect on the horrors that Indigenous peoples have experienced and create space to listen to the lived experiences of residential school Survivors, we honour their resilience and walk actively towards Reconciliation.

Orange Shirt Day is not just a day. LABC’s commitment to Reconciliation is guided by our Reconciliation Action Plan. Since committing to this plan in 2018, the urgency has only increased. In spite of sentencing law improvements and our goals to reduce the number of Indigenous people in custody, there are less Canadians imprisoned, and more Indigenous people entering the prison system. Last month, Kory Wilson, Chair of the BC First Nations Justice Council stated that the mass incarceration of our people is a human rights crisis.” Safiyya Ahmad of the BC Civil Liberties Association talked earlier this year about the endurance of systemic racism” indicated by the ability for the justice system to make allowances, but those allowances being rarely made, if at all, for Indigenous peoples. 

I reflect on my life experiences and acknowledge that due to my identity as a White cis-gendered man, I have had significantly fewer barriers in accessing justice, and the means to self-determination. Today, I reflect on how I use and will continue to use my power and privilege to amplify the voices of Indigenous peoples, both within LABC and in my personal life. That drives my actions in supporting the BC First Nations Justice Strategy, and I will continue to collaborate and learn from Indigenous folks, to read and practice these principles of Reconciliation in all that I do. 

Truth-telling is necessary, as is listening and learning. At LABC I commit to continuing executive support for safe spaces for Indigenous leadership and Indigenous staff to guide LABC on their experiences and how LABC can deliver justice outcomes for Indigenous peoples, decolonize the LABC culture, and deliver the Reconciliation Action Plan’s (RAP) goals. 

Michael Bryant

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