AFN out­lines elec­tion pri­or­i­ties

The Prince George Citizen - - News -

Canada has been treat­ing Indige­nous is­sues as higher pri­or­i­ties since the last fed­eral elec­tion but more work needs to be done, says As­sem­bly of First Na­tions Chief Perry Bel­le­garde.

The na­tional group, which in­cludes First Na­tions chiefs from across Canada, is out­lin­ing its elec­tion pri­or­i­ties for Canada’s First Na­tions, with less than a week be­fore the fed­eral cam­paign must be­gin.

Bel­le­garde re­leased a 16-page doc­u­ment to­day in Ottawa, say­ing he hopes it will frame the di­a­logue around First Na­tions dur­ing the elec­tion race and help set the agenda for Indige­nous rights and pri­or­i­ties for the next govern­ment.

“Has the gap closed yet? The an­swer is no. Has there been move­ment? The an­swer is yes, but we have to main­tain mo­men­tum,” he told re­porters.

Nei­ther Bel­le­garde nor the AFN is en­dors­ing a par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal party for the Oct. 21 vote. Rather, the hope is to mo­ti­vate Indige­nous Cana­di­ans to ex­er­cise their right to vote and, when they do, to ex­am­ine the progress that has been made by all par­ties on mak­ing First Na­tions is­sues a pri­or­ity, Bel­le­garde said.

“I think we can have an im­pact, no ques­tion.”

The AFN elec­tion doc­u­ment, en­ti­tled “Honour­ing Prom­ises,” lists short and long-term goals to im­prove the lives of Indige­nous peo­ples in Canada.

The top pri­or­ity is mit­i­gat­ing the ef­fects of cli­mate change. It calls on the in­com­ing fed­eral govern­ment, within the first year of its man­date, to work with First Na­tions to make cli­mate change a na­tional pri­or­ity.

The AFN wants First Na­tions to be­come full part­ners in car­ry­ing out Canada’s cli­mate plan, in­clud­ing in any de­ci­sions on how to spend money raised from car­bon pric­ing, and would like di­rect par­tic­i­pa­tion in fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy-mak­ing.

“For gen­er­a­tions we have heard prom­ises. Now we must see ac­tion, in part­ner­ship with Indige­nous knowl­edge,” the doc­u­ment says. “We must de­velop a vi­sion of en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship that is global and holis­tic, tak­ing us be­yond ex­ist­ing tar­gets and time­lines, to­ward a sus­tain­able fu­ture for all gen­er­a­tions.”

The na­tional group is also look­ing for recog­ni­tion that First Na­tions’ treaty rights would al­low them to de­velop and im­ple­ment en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and im­pact-as­sess­ment regimes.

A num­ber of First Na­tions have mounted le­gal chal­lenges against the fed­eral govern­ment on ma­jor en­ergy projects, in­clud­ing the Trans Moun­tain pipeline, on grounds of not hav­ing been prop­erly con­sulted – some of which have been suc­cess­ful.

The AFN is now ask­ing for the fed­eral govern­ment to sup­port First Na­tions-led en­vi­ron­men­tal and reg­u­la­tory re­views as part of a more collaborat­ive ap­proach to en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship.

This 2019 elec­tion doc­u­ment builds on the AFN’s “Clos­ing the Gap” doc­u­ment, dis­trib­uted to each party dur­ing the last fed­eral elec­tion. Bel­le­garde says he is con­fi­dent his or­ga­ni­za­tion was able to in­flu­ence the poli­cies of po­lit­i­cal par­ties in 2015 and hopes to do so again this time.

“Con­crete ac­tions” and in­vest­ments have been made, Bel­le­garde ac­knowl­edges, while stress­ing the “con­sid­er­able ground to make up to en­sure First Na­tions and Cana­di­ans share an equal qual­ity of life, and to see gen­er­a­tional shifts in out­comes.”

Another area where “sweep­ing changes” are needed is in the over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Indige­nous peo­ples in the crim­i­nal-jus­tice sys­tem and in jails and pris­ons in Canada, the AFN says.

In 2017-18, Indige­nous in­mates rep­re­sented 28 per cent of the to­tal num­ber of fed­eral pris­on­ers, de­spite mak­ing up just 4.3 per cent of the to­tal Cana­dian pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the an­nual re­port of the fed­eral cor­rec­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tor. The sit­u­a­tion for Indige­nous women is par­tic­u­larly strik­ing – over the last 10 years, the num­ber of Indige­nous women sen­tenced to more than two years in prison in­creased by 60 per cent, and they now are 40 per cent of in­car­cer­ated women in Canada.

The AFN is call­ing for new restora­tive-jus­tice sys­tems to pro­mote com­mu­nity heal­ing, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and rein­te­gra­tion, dis­plac­ing puni­tive mea­sures.

CP PHOTO

As­sem­bly of First Na­tions (AFN) Na­tional Chief Perry Bel­le­garde re­leases “Honour­ing Prom­ises: 2019 Fed­eral Elec­tion Pri­or­i­ties for First Na­tions and Canada” dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the Na­tional Press The­atre in Ottawa on Mon­day.

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