Trudeau says he’s making good on his promises to Indigenous people

Admiting there's work to be done, the prime minister stood with Indigenous leaders on Thursday to commit to more action to address inequality for the Aboriginal population
December 16, 2016, 1:42pm

In the year since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report into Canada’s dark history of residential schools was first released, with a detailed action plan on how Canada could repair its relationship with its Indigenous population and end systemic inequality on First Nation reserves, the Prime Minister says he has acted on 41 of the 45 federal recommendations he promised to fully implement.

On Thursday he announced two more: a $10 million commitment for Manitoba’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, and the appointment of a board of directors tasked with creating a National Council for Reconciliation.

Up against Canada’s long history of cultural genocide toward Indigenous people, including Canada’s forcing Indigenous children to attend residential schools where they were abused and stripped of their culture, Trudeau says he’s inching the country toward reconciliation, acknowledging that “the challenges we’re facing will take not just years but decades in many cases to fully reverse.”

But he still has much to accomplish.

While it’s only been a year, there’s still some skepticism about the prime minister’s progress. Trudeau told reporters that “we’ve managed to lift 14 boiled water advisories across the country with more to come in the coming months and years. We intend on meeting our target of ending boiled water advisories within five years from having formed government.”

However, a VICE News investigation found that there was still undrinkable water on many of those reserves.

Trudeau said his government was in the construction and planning phases for new schools on First Nations, however the government has been warned twice this year to comply with a Human Rights Tribunal ruling that found it is actively discriminating against Indigenous children by underfunding them compared to off-reserve children.

On the same day Trudeau met with the Indigenous leaders and spoke about his progress, a fire broke out on the Oneida Nation of the Thames, claiming the lives of five family members: A father and his four children, one of them a three-month-old baby. As Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde pointed out, a lack of on-reserve infrastructure makes those fires so much more deadly for Indigenous people. “It just speaks to the need for proper services for fire in terms of fire trucks, and training, and capacities,” he said.

Trudeau mentioned the $8.4 billion in infrastructure spending dedicated for Aboriginal reserves, and offered his condolences for those who lost their lives.

“We’ve never been involved, we’ve been always left out and unfortunately we had to get to court to get ourselves back to the table.”

“We have taken significant measures concretely to build solutions and partnerships with indigenous communities but we know that it’s not just about immediate band aids and immediate quick fixes,” he said.

Earlier this week, the government also doubled its funding for Shoal Lake 40’s Freedom Road, which will connect the isolated reserve to basic services, including a water treatment plant. The reserve has been on a boil water advisory for 19 years.

Trudeau also announced his government is establishing a new, permanent “Kelowna-like” process to meet once a year with the bodies that govern First Nations, the Inuit, and the Metis. That’s significant because the Metis have not historically been involved in reconciliation discussions.

Trudeau made the announcement after meeting in Ottawa with Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde, Metis National Council Vice President David Chartrand and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed.

“We recognize that true reconciliation goes beyond a list of action items. What is needed is a national strategy to advance long term reconciliation,” Trudeau said, acknowledging that the meeting took place on Algonquin territory.

When asked on Thursday by VICE News what Trudeau needs to act on immediately, Chief Bellegarde said he must fulfill his promise of Indigenous language legislation, and adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

“When he came to our chiefs in assembly, he announced language legislation, Indigenous language revitalization. That is huge. What a better way for reconciliation than to have statutory legislation in place for the recovery of indigenous languages. Then working with us to look at ways to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People — that’s huge and a federal law and policy review, you know, it’s huge. Getting all the laws and policies in line with treaty rights and inherent rights.”

Chartrand added that the government must create a Metis policy for all government departments. He pointed out that Metis have historically been excluded from these discussions, and that the government’s commitment of $8.4 billion in spending toward resolving Indigenous issues in Canada is not for Metis people.

“For our side, we look at it from the context we’ve never been involved, we’ve been always left out and unfortunately we had to get to court to get ourselves back to the table,” he said.

“Right now, the $8.4 billion he announced for Indigenous people, Canadians automatically think it’s for the Metis also. It’s not for us, it’s zero for us. So we knew that, we knew it as a Metis nation government. The Prime Minister is starting to recognize it also. So I think from the context — one of the things that needs to happen in Canada for the government is to create a Metis policy for all departments so that we’re not treated as second class or third class citizens.”

Inuit leader Obed said he had to fight to work directly with the government on the pressing issue of climate change — an issue that is already affecting Inuit in the Arctic. Now, Obed said they are working directly with the government on that file.

Suicide rates are up to 11 times higher in Indigenous communities compared with the rest of the country. For Inuit and Innu populations in Labrador and Nunavut, the problem is especially dire, with suicide rates there the highest in the country — and even one of the highest rates in the world. But Obed said progress has been made on that file.

“We have a couple of tangible things that have happened in the past year that have been very meaningful for Inuit,” he said. He specifically lauded a national Inuit suicide prevention strategy that came with $9 million in funding from Ottawa.

“There also has been the creation of a help line that our people can access who are in crisis. We’ve had specific allocations to top up mental health funding in Inuit regions.”

He added that the government allocated another $155 million for Inuit housing needs.

“On behalf of Canadian Inuit, I just want to thank the Prime Minister and also his cabinet colleagues who came to the meeting this morning that took place between the government of Canada and representatives of Indigenous peoples in this country,” Obed said.