Trudeau’s UN speech useless without action
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau humbled himself and the country in front of the United Nations, speaking candidly about Canada’s ongoing and colonial relationship with the First Nations.
“For Indigenous Peoples in Canada, the experience was mostly one of humiliation, neglect and abuse” under successive governments, he said. “We are greatly ashamed. And for far too many Indigenous People, that lack of respect for rights still persists today.”
It was a speech the likes of which the United Nations is not used to hearing. Usually, governments talk about themselves in glowing terms.
So what was the point? Cynics pointed out Canada is lobbying for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021 and a little dose of humility would go a long way toward that goal.
Canada has held a seat on the Security Council every decade since the UN was formed, except for the decade when Stephen Harper was in power. His unwavering support for Israel and his criticism of the institution made it clear that we didn’t have a chance.
But what does this mean for us? Are we pawns on the chess board to get Canada a seat on the Security Council?
The Liberal government has painted itself into a corner on First Nations issues. It has made promises, decried our history, participated superficially in reconciliation and split the colonial office into two colonial offices. But what change has it wrought?
We still don’t have parity in program funding and the colonial office still controls the purse strings and holds back progress. The Human Rights Tribunal has ordered that the Department of Indigenous Affairs fund child welfare on an equal footing, but resistance continues from the department. The government realizes if it agrees to parity with the provinces in funding child welfare that education, health and other programs will follow.
This is the history of funding and providing programs from the Department of Indigenous Affairs. It keeps the lid on as long as possible.
On one hand we have the politicians decrying our sorry lot while their own colonial office continues to resist change. This strange dichotomy can continue no longer. Expectations are high in the First Nations communities. We keep hearing that things are about to improve, but the old attitudes persist.
The time for talk and sympathetic speeches is over. Canada has to move on and get serious about its relationship with the first peoples.
We require both an increase in funding and a change in the colonial attitude.
We need an effort on par to the Marshall Pan that was used to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.
Canada is a rich nation and the fact that 150 of our communities have to boil their water so it’s safe to drink is appalling. The fact that resources are extracted from our traditional lands with no revenue sharing is a stumbling block in our development. Without the political power and financial resources, we are consigned to a stagnant life of poverty.
If the governing bureaucrats were able to let go and give us the freedom to develop economically, there would be a considerable change.
Back in 1982 we got constitutional recognition of our treaty and Aboriginal rights. We have a steady series of winning cases at the Supreme Court. But little has been translated into action. We must have real recognition of our treaty rights and our inherent right to govern ourselves.
Trudeau’s performance at the UN was admirable and overdue, but we need action. We have had two years of platitudes and sympathy.
—Doug Cuthand is a columnist for the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.