Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marked National Aboriginal Day by promising to strip the name of a residential schools proponent from a federal building and to rename the annual occasion as National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Trudeau also formally announced that 100 Wellington St. in Ottawa, a heritage building and former U.S. embassy, will become a space dedicated to Inuit, Métis and First Nations peoples.
During an event outside the building located across from Parliament Hill, Trudeau said there has never been a space dedicated to Indigenous peoples in the parliamentary precinct.
"That changes today," he said told the crowd of assembled Indigenous leaders and community members.
"It is our hope that this historic building will be a powerful symbol of the foundational role of Indigenous peoples in Canada's history as well as our close relationship towards our shared future."
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Trudeau also announced that the building currently called the Langevin block, which houses the Prime Minister's Office, will be renamed.
The building is named after Hector-Louis Langevin, a father of Confederation and a prominent member of Sir John A. Macdonald's cabinet. He proposed the creation of the residential school system as the quickest way to assimilate First Nations children into Euro-Canadian society.
He served as secretary of state for the provinces when the country's first residential schools were introduced.
"There is a deep pain in knowing that that building carries a name so closely associated with the horror of residential schools," Trudeau said. "Keeping that name on the Prime Minister's office is inconsistent with the values of our government, and it's inconsistent with our vision of a strong partnership with indigenous peoples in Canada."
The building will "practically" be renamed The Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council, he said.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde called the announcement "a big thing" that represents a milestone in building the nation-to-nation relationship.
But NDP MP Romeo Saganash stood in question period Wednesday afternoon, and speaking in his native Cree, asked Trudeau if he had consulted representatives of the Algonquin People or spoken to the Penoshway family, who were removed from the land now occupying Parliament Hill, before changing the name of Langevin block.
Trudeau responded by thanking Saganash for his words, which were not translated in the House, and saying he wished he had the capacity to understand what was being said.
"I thank the member for his question and look forward to working with him on the path to true reconciliation," Trudeau said.
In a statement released earlier Wednesday morning, Trudeau said the government is determined to make a real difference in the lives of Indigenous Canadians by closing socio-economic gaps, supporting greater self-determination and creating more opportunities to work on "shared priorities."
"No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Our government is working together with Indigenous Peoples to build a nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, government-to-government relationship – one based on respect, partnership, and recognition of rights," the prime minister's statement reads.
The statement said it is the government's intention is to rename the day National Indigenous Peoples Day, and that the government is reviewing all federal laws and policies to make progress on calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The name change, which requires an order-in-council, will be in place for next year.
Bellegarde welcomed the move, saying it would be more reflective of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"It's important to be consistent with international terminology. It's an important step, no question," he told CBC News in an interview.
Bellegarde called the day a chance to celebrate the contributions to the country and the resilience of Indigenous people.
'We're still here'
"In spite of the genocide from the residential schools and the colonization and oppression of the Indian Act and the exploitation of the land and territories, everything we have faced in the last 500 years, we're still here as Indigenous peoples," he said. "You can still hear our songs and our dance and our culture."
Bellegarde said there is an awakening in Canadians about the quality of life gap that persists for Indigenous people, including housing, education, access to water and suicide rates.
"What's hopeful for me is that Canadians are starting to get it. To have those statistics that plague Indigenous peoples be real in 2017 is just not acceptable anymore," he said. "To see the poverty, and to see the systemic discrimination within police and within health care system, it's just not acceptable and I think there's a crying need for changes. That's what's hopeful and providing inspiration for a better country going forward."
Trudeau said the day is an opportunity to recognize the "fundamental contributions" that First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation have made to the country, and urged Canadians to take part in Aboriginal Day activities in their communities to learn about the history, cultures and traditions of Indigenous people.
"The 150th anniversary of Confederation this year reminds us of the legacy of the past. As we look forward to the next 150 years, we commit to move ahead together in a spirit of reconciliation and respect," he said.
The NDP also released a statement marking National Aboriginal Day as an occasion to honour the contributions of Indigenous people, including work to champion environmental protection and social justice, while reflecting on the many challenges Indigenous people still face today.
"Every day that we, as Indigenous Peoples, walk through a society built on colonial values is a day that we are reminded of how much work there is still to do to ensure a successful future for all our children," Indigenous and Northern Affairs critic Romeo Saganash.
NDP MP Georgina Jolibois has tabled a private member's bill to make National Aboriginal Day a national statutory holiday.
"The timing of this bill is significant for many people because while many are celebrating Canada 150, few are recognizing the sad realities and history of Indigenous Peoples. This recognition is necessary for reconciliation, and a renewed and sincere nation-to-nation relationship," Jolibois said in the statement.
"We can't change the past; however, we can be honest and educate ourselves so that history does not repeat itself."
Bellegarde supports making it a national statutory holiday.
"Education and awareness are two steps that lead to understanding that should lead to action," he said. "Having a statutory holiday for Indigenous Peoples Day is a way of educating Canadians, it's an opportunity to listen and learn. I think we've got to really interact more together and learn from each other because there's just not enough integration either way. We still live in solitudes."
Paul Duchesne, a spokesman for the Privy Council Office, said there is no intention at this time to change the status of the day to be a statutory holiday.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May issued a statement urging government action to address pressing issues such as the lack of clean drinking water and discrimination against Indigenous children.
"Advocates are pushing the federal government to abide by an order to provide equitable funding for child and family services on reserves. This year's budget contained nothing to address this shortfall in funding. This blatant discrimination tarnishes Canada's human rights record."