Trudeau’s UN speech use­less with­out ac­tion

The Delhi News-Record - - OPINION - DOU­GLAS CUTHAND

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.

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