Trudeau announces steps to ‘renew’ indigenous… 1:53
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a trio of indigenous leaders Thursday called for patience and more time as they committed themselves to more negotiations and more study to improve the lives of Canada’s indigenous peoples.
Trudeau and leaders from the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Taparit Kanatami and the Metis National Council met on Parliament Hill Thursday morning where they agreed that Trudeau and his ministers would meet regularly over the coming years with members of each organization.
Trudeau also announced $10 million for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, a research group set up to track the implementation of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But many other indigenous leaders as well as political opponents of the federal Liberals are becoming impatient and frustrated at the continued tweaking of processes and a perceived lack of concrete action that could improve the lives of indigenous Canadians.
“This announcement is not an act of reconciliation,” said Pam Palmater, the chair of the indigenous governance program at Ryerson University in Toronto and one of the leading critics of not only the federal government but also of the Assembly of First Nations. “This is the same old delay tactic used by previous governments to make it look like they are doing something when faced with growing criticism that they are not doing enough.”
Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the AFN, cautioned that “it was not realistic” to think the gap in quality-of-life standards between indigenous Canadians and non-indigenous Canadians was going to close in Trudeau’s first year on the job.
Both he and Trudeau pointed to a handful of projects that have improved conditions in indigenous communities that got started over the last year.
“We know there’s a strategy and plan moving forward. To close this gap is not going to happen in 12 months. Long-term sustainable investments — that’s the trick. That’s the thing,” Bellegarde said.
David Chartrand, vice-president of the Metis National Council of Canada, was even more explicit in his message of patience to those indigenous Canadians frustrated with conditions in their communities.
“I send a message back to my own people. The prime minister has promised a lot. And he’s trying to do a lot and he’s trying to catch up for decades of unfinished business. And now we can’t be putting him in a position that we expect him to do it all immediately, (that by) tomorrow morning our problems are resolved. It ain’t going to happen.” said Chartrand. “We’ve got to be conscious of that.”
Palmater, who ran unsuccessfully in 2012 to become AFN national chief, was sharply critical of that kind of counsel.
“While I fully expect the government to continue the same tactics it has used since contact, what isn’t acceptable are the corporate heads of national aboriginal organizations telling us to be patient and telling us to wait,” Palmater said.
At a special meeting of the Assembly of First Nations last week in week in Gatineau, Que., there was some grumbling among some chiefs about the slow pace of change under the Trudeau government.
“At this point it is clear that real change has been replaced with incremental change,” said Hayden King, an assistant professor in the school of public policy and administration at Carleton University. “Even if the shift to an incremental approach was predictable, it is still frustrating, more so, when justified under the pretense of ‘getting it right.’ I think that’s disingenuous.
“It is apparent that we are stuck in reconciliatory inertia. And that breeds cynicism of this government and the national First Nation and Métis organizations that endorse incremental change.”
Conservative and New Democrat MPs have teamed up over the last few months in Parliament to press the Trudeau government to more quickly implement changes they say would immediately help indigenous people.
New Democrat Charlie Angus, for example, has led the charge to get the government to implement Jordan’s Principle, something it was ordered to do last January by a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
Jordan’s Principle requires health care providers to provide care to indigenous children even when there may be unresolved disputes over which level of government is responsible for that care.
The government says it has implemented Jordan’s Principle and that more than 900 children have benefitted. In response, critics have cited dozens of anecdotes of indigenous children being denied health care by government bureaucrats or for lack of funds.
King said one of his “easy policy shifts: stopping the discrimination of First Nation children in government care.”
For Palmater, an announcement about more talks between the federal government and indigenous organizations “is beyond sickening, it’s neglectful.”
She argued that the federal government should be dealing aboriginal and treaty rights, resource rights and jurisdiction — the big issues at the heart of the dysfunctional relationship between the Crown and indigenous governments while making immediate fixes in other areas.
“There is no economic, administrative or legal impediment to the federal government acting tomorrow to take substantive actions to bring relief for our people,” said Palmater, a Mi’kmaw and member of Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. “They could tomorrow decide to end discriminatory funding and adjust contribution agreements for First Nations. They could decide tomorrow to comply with the Human Rights Tribunal and stop discriminatory funding for kids in care. Doing this would put good faith on the table. It’s a matter of political will.”