“O siem!” Congress delegates honoured with vibrant aboriginal welcome

The Second World Congress of the International Trade Union Confederation was launched against the backdrop of the steep coastal mountains which frame Vancouver’s industrial harbour front, a location rich in cultural and labour history. The opening session featured some of Canada’s finest aboriginal artists, including Inuit throat singing and intricate hoop dancing.

Musqueam First Nation elder Rose Point welcomed delegates to the territory of the Coast Salish peoples on June 21, which is celebrated as National Aboriginal Day in Canada. “I know that you are here with open minds and hearts, working for our future generations so we may learn to live in peace and harmony,” she said.

British Columbia is unusual in Canada because the majority of the province is unceded aboriginal territory; land that has never been surrendered through war or treaty. However, the first nations people continue to struggle to have their traditional rights to land and self-government fully recognized.

The province is also remarkable for its colourful labour movement founded in logging, mining and fishing camps, which today includes a strong and progressive public service trade union sector. Some 35 percent of BC workers are union members, the second highest rate of unionization in North America.

But BC has also been governed for the past decade by a conservative neo-liberal party whose reign has been marked by massive cuts in public services and social programmes, deregulation of environmental standards, and privatization of public resources such as hydropower. This resource-rich province has held the shameful record of the highest level of child poverty in Canada for seven consecutive years.

The issues and injustices which many ITUC delegates face daily are reflected in the microcosm of British Columbia’s communities. But as delegates heard on the opening day of the World Congress, the solidarity of working people across cultures will empower us all.