Quotes from the UCC Congress: Continued

    Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaks at the 26th Triennial UCC Congress Photo: UCC

    New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

    There were many prominent speakers at the 26th Triennial Congress of Ukrainian Canadian Congress that took place in Ottawa on November 1-3. Today, we present the quotes from the speech made at the Congress by Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde on Friday, November 1.

    “I just spoke a little Cree and a little Ukrainian (Як ся маєш? Дуже добре), so I can say I am a ‘Ucreenian’.

    “I come from a small reservation in the southern Saskatchewan called Little Black Bear. At that time, Indian Affairs had a bussing program to bring First Nations students to provincial schools within the ‘integration program’. I went to school in Goodeve SK. We would start our day with ‘Добрий день, студенти. Добрий день, пане вчителю’. I went to school with Achtemichuk’s, Demianczuk’s, Chernetsky’s and Piastas. There were Ukrainian farmers,… they were hard working people. And we shared our history. [Take] the starvation, the genocide that your people endured in 1930s. I thought, you know, how similar is that to our history – the First Nations people were starved due to the killing of the buffalo in the prairies. And then the sicknesses inflicted on our people, the smallpox. And then the genocide of the residential schools. And now we, Ukrainian Canadians and Cree Canadians, have a shared future because we are still here, we have persevered.

    “I talked to my friends, the Korchynsky family, they told me, ‘If it had not been for the First Nations people, we would not be here as Kochynskys, we would not have survived on the prairies’. We became friends with Ukrainian students on the school bus and after school they would come to the reserve with us and we would go to their farms. Growing up, we would trade with Ukrainians deer meat for fresh cream, it was a symbiotic relationship, everybody got along and worked together.

    “I had a great honour of meeting a gentleman named Mustafa [Dzemilev], the leader of Crimean Tatars, a very powerful man who was imprisoned for 30 years for standing up for the rights of his people. He asked me a couple of years ago, how can I, as the First Nations chief, support the Tatars in their struggle and push Canada so that there is recognition of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, can we push for more economic sanctions. What Chrystia Freeland earlier said that we won’t welcome Russia to the G7 until Crimea is back in Ukraine, we totally support that.

    “One should always try to leave more hope in the room then when they walked in. And that’s what I want to do here today. Because it’s all about building a better country here in Canada and a revitalization of Ukraine. According to the United Nations Human Development Index, [there is great disparity between] Canada [as a whole and] the First Nations people. This is what needs to be addressed. This is why I keep coming to groups and try to build bridges, because I need your help to talk to Members of Parliament, to Premiers, to convince them to keep investing in education, health care, potable water for the First Nations to close this gap. In Canada, we have a skilled labour shortage and an ageing work force, while the fastest growing segment of population is young First Nations. We need to invest in their education and quality of life, no question it will provide a huge return on investment in the future. Of course, the First Nations say that. But when the Ukrainian Canadian Congress says that, it will help.

    “The Liberal government has done more for the First Nations than anybody in the last 50 years. The governments have invested $21.4 billion over seven fiscal years in education, housing, water, infrastructure. This government passed a very important language bill Bill C91 for revitalization and rejuvenation of over 60 different First Nations languages across Canada. Language is so vital and key for us because we do not want the residential schools. So, it’s moving in the right way but we are not done yet. Bear with me, I am going to try: ‘Я радий сказати, що ми бачимо кроки у правильному напрямку’

    “2019 is the international year of Indigenous languages. And that’s where I need your help – in pushing Canada for the decade, not just a year of Indigenous languages. Those languages are our national treasures, they are not spoken anywhere else, we have to do all we can to bring them back.

    “Дякую and Слава Україні!”