Stronger In­dige­nous rights ahead: PM

New ap­proach needed to tackle many chal­lenges in In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties: Trudeau

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - OPINION - JOANNA SMITH

OT­TAWA — Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau is plan­ning to over­haul the way the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­lates to In­dige­nous Peo­ples, propos­ing a new leg­isla­tive frame­work de­signed to pave the way to­wards stronger rights and greater con­trol over their own des­tiny.

“We need to both rec­og­nize and im­ple­ment In­dige­nous rights,” Trudeau said Wed­nes­day in a speech in the House of Com­mons.

“Be­cause the truth is, un­til we get this part right, we won’t have last­ing suc­cess on the con­crete out­comes that we know mean so much to peo­ple.”

The prime min­is­ter said the new ap­proach, to be de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with First Na­tions, Metis and Inuit, is needed to tackle the many chal­lenges fac­ing their com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing over­crowded hous­ing, un­safe drink­ing wa­ter and high rates of sui­cide among In­dige­nous youth.

“All of these things de­mand real, pos­i­tive ac­tion — ac­tion that must in­clude the full recog­ni­tion and im­ple­men­ta­tion of In­dige­nous rights,” Trudeau said. “We need to get to a place where In­dige­nous Peo­ples in Canada are in con­trol of their own des­tiny, mak­ing their own de­ci­sions about the future.”

The new Recog­ni­tion and Im­ple­men­ta­tion of In­dige­nous Rights Frame­work — to be un­veiled later this year fol­low­ing con­sul­ta­tions led by Carolyn Ben­nett, the min­is­ter for Crown-In­dige­nous re­la­tions, and Jus­tice Min­is­ter Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould — will in­clude new leg­is­la­tion.

“This frame­work gives us the op­por­tu­nity to build new mech­a­nisms to rec­og­nize In­dige­nous gov­ern­ments and en­sure rig­or­ous, full and mean­ing­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of treaties and other agree­ments,” he said.

It would al­low the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to find new ways to help In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties re­build, in­clud­ing through self-gov­ern­ment, and could lead to new, more col­lab­o­ra­tive ways to re­solve dis­putes.

Trudeau said it will not, how­ever, re­quire re open­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, where Sec­tion 35 al­ready rec­og­nizes these rights.

That recog­ni­tion, Trudeau ac­knowl­edged, came only after the “out­spo­ken ad­vo­cacy” of In­dige­nous Peo­ples, since the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment at the time, led by his fa­ther Pierre Trudeau, had not orig­i­nally planned to in­clude them.

The prob­lem, Trudeau said, is that fed­eral gov­ern­ments have not been fully im­ple­ment­ing those rights, forc­ing In­dige­nous Peo­ples to turn to the courts to en­force them, time and again.

Con­ser­va­tive MP Cathy McLeod, the critic for In­dige­nous af­fairs, re­sponded to the speech by pro­mot­ing the record of the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, say­ing it was for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper who de­liv­ered the apol­ogy for In­dian res­i­den­tial schools and es­tab­lished the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion to ex­am­ine its legacy of abuse.

New Demo­crat MP Romeo Sa­ganash, the critic for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion who has been push­ing for the gov­ern­ment to fully im­ple­ment the United Na­tions Dec­la­ra­tion on the Rights of In­dige­nous Peo­ples, also sounded a warn­ing.

“One of the most un­ac­cept­able things politi­cians can do is to even­tu­ally quash the hope of the most vul­ner­a­ble in our so­ci­ety ... by break­ing yet an­other prom­ise,” said Sa­ganash, who be­gan by speak­ing in the Cree lan­guage.

“That can­not hap­pen. I will not let that hap­pen again.”

Wed­nes­day ’s speech came as the fam­ily of Colten Boushie wrapped up their visit to Par­lia­ment Hill, where they said they have felt both wel­comed and sup­ported in their effort to press the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for change fol­low­ing the ac­quit­tal of the man charged in Boushie’s death.

Trudeau men­tioned his meet­ing with the fam­ily in his speech.

“Through all their grief and anger and frus­tra­tion, their fo­cus was not on them­selves and the tragedy they have en­dured, but on how we must work to­gether to make the sys­tem and our in­sti­tu­tions better,” Trudeau said.

“Re­forms are needed to en­sure that — among other things — In­dige­nous Peo­ples might once again have con­fi­dence in a sys­tem that has failed them all too of­ten in the past.”

A num­ber of vis­i­bly In­dige­nous peo­ple were ex­cluded with­out cause from the jury that last week ac­quit­ted Saskatchewan farmer Ger­ald Stan­ley, 56, in the shoot­ing death of Boushie, 22, a mem­ber of the Red Pheas­ant First Na­tion.

The Lib­er­als have long promised jus­tice re­forms, but are now promis­ing to re­view the use of peremp­tory chal­lenges, which al­low lawyers to re­ject jury can­di­dates dur­ing the se­lec­tion process.

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment be­gan sig­nalling this new ap­proach last sum­mer, when Trudeau an­nounced that Ben­nett, who had been in charge of the In­dige­nous Af­fairs Depart­ment since 2015, would be joined on the file by for­mer health min­is­ter Jane Philpott.

Trudeau also said at the time that the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment was tak­ing steps to move be­yond the In­dian Act, a 141-year-old statute that has been widely crit­i­cized by In­dige­nous lead­ers as colo­nial and pa­ter­nal­is­tic.

The Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion also rec­om­mended an en­tirely new way of view­ing the re­la­tion­ship, in­clud­ing by call­ing for a “Royal Procla­ma­tion of Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” from the Crown.

JUSTIN TANG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau is ap­plauded as he rises to de­liver a speech on the recog­ni­tion and im­ple­men­ta­tion of In­dige­nous rights in the House of Com­mons on Par­lia­ment Hill in Ot­tawa on Wed­nes­day.

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