“This year more than ever it’s more important to get an understanding of what happened in the past and come to terms with it,” Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale tells the MyHaliburtonNow.com newsroom.

He also serves as the Shadow Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations.

“There are, unfortunately, stories that many Indigenous Communities have talked about for decades, but I think it really came to light when the graves were discovered,” Schmale says of the hundreds of unmarked graves that have been discovered in recent weeks on the grounds of and near former residential schools, adding the system is a “stain” on Canadian history. “Most of us can’t even imagine, as a parent, having your child taken away from you by the state, and having to ask for permission to see them again for a couple of days at Christmas and then having to return them back to the state again. You can’t even comprehend that.”

As the unmarked graves have been found, Schmale says the stories of the abuse Indigenous children faced are also being talked about.

Going forward, he says that education is going to be important, pointing out that it’s one of the key points in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report. Schmale adds that he agrees that just as it’s important we learn the positive aspects of Canadian history, we need to learn about the bad parts as well. While he did learn about the residential school system in school, Schmale says there wasn’t a lot to the lessons. “The last residential school was closed in 1996,” Schmale points out. “I graduated high school in 1994.”

He also says that the federal government needs to change how they handle Indigenous issues, saying that the feds have “failed its First Nations community” over the past 150 years. “That’s because the structure is there,” Schmale goes on to say. “You have Ottawa with a top-down approach telling these communities how they’re going to operate or what they have to do to get funding. It never works when you have a centralized power, far away, making these decisions.”

Schmale says Indeignous leaders need to be empowered going forward to lead their communities because they know what needs to be done better than anything else. “Ottawa is the block to all of this,” he adds. “That’s why the status quo needs to be changed, I think, in order to really move forward with truth and reconciliation.”