Canada’s new Liberal government opened the day with important statements for Indigenous peoples in the country, officially launching the first stage of a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and reaffirming the pledge of a “nation-to-nation” relationship with First Nations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a speech and following statement to the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly this morning in Gatineau, Quebec, reiterating his promise of partnership.
“There is no relationship more important to me – and to Canada – than the one with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit,” he said.
“It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples: one that is based on the understanding that the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of First Nations are a sacred obligation that we carry forward. This obligation is based on respect, co-operation, and partnership; it is guided by the spirit and intent of the original treaty relationship; and it respects inherent rights, treaties and jurisdictions, and the decisions of our courts.
“Bringing about real change will take more than just individual people – or even individual governments. What is needed is nothing less than a total renewal of the relationship between Canada and the First Nations peoples.”
This morning also saw the launch of the long-awaited national public inquiry into the disappearance and murder of more than 1,200 Indigenous women in Canada over the last three decades.
At a press conference in Ottawa, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Status of Women Minister Patricia Hajdu, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced the roll-out of a two-phase inquiry process.
The first step will include meetings with the families of the missing and murdered to determine the design of the inquiry and the objectives it will aim to achieve. National Aboriginal organizations, front-line service workers, and other Indigenous people will also be consulted over the following months as the first phase continues.
That inquiry will be done with the goal of creating concrete action so that the disappearances and murders stop, Bennett said.
“We need to hear those stories, so that Canadians understand, really, that racism and sexism in this country kills,” she told reporters.
Bennett said the first phase will take as long as necessary to “get it right”, but the government is hoping to have the second phase – the actual inquiry – started by next spring. While $40 million over two years has been earmarked for an inquiry, the ministers said the budget is a “placeholder” and will be flexible with what is needed for an inquiry that could take more than two years.
“We need to hear those stories, so that Canadians understand, really, that racism and sexism in this country kills.”
In his statement, Trudeau affirmed that the new relationship includes an inquiry, as well as “significant investments” in First Nations education that will be led by First Nations, and the full implementation of both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The government is also planning a full review of “legislation unilaterally imposed on Indigenous peoples by earlier governments.”
During the launch of the inquiry, Wilson-Raybould confirmed that review could include the Indian Act, as well as areas like child welfare.
In the interim, Hajdu said more shelters, affordable housing, transitional housing, clean drinking water, and affordable food are all issues that need action to prevent more missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The approximately 700 existing recommendations that exist on the issue will also continue to be actioned in the meantime, she said.◉
Photo: Vigil participants in Montreal honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. Credit: Howl Arts Collective (cc)