OVERHEARD

On February 14, 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government’s intention to develop an Indigenous rights framework that would “recognize and implement” Indigenous rights in Canada. This is an excerpt of his speech to the House of Commons.

Right Hon. Justin Trudeau (Prime Minister):
Today, I am pleased to announce that the government will develop, in full partnership with first nations, Inuit, and Métis people, a new recognition and implementation of indigenous rights framework that will include new ways to recognize and implement indigenous rights. This will include new recognition and implementation of rights legislation. Going forward, recognition of rights will guide all government interactions with indigenous peoples. The contents of the framework that we build together will be determined through a national engagement led by the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs with support from the Minister of Justice.

Earlier, I cited many reports and a number of previous studies and consultations. I can appreciate that some would see any future consultation as just another hindrance to the struggle for the self-determination of indigenous people. Let us be clear: no matter how responsible, well-intentioned, or thoughtful it is, a solution coming just straight out of Ottawa will not do much good.

We understand that indigenous peoples are looking forward to beginning the considerable work themselves to rebuild their nations and their institutions. As a government, our work is to support First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and to work in partnership with them to establish the framework and provide them with the tools they need as they lead the way, together with all Canadians.

We will also be engaging the provinces and territories, non-indigenous Canadians, people from civil society, industry, and the business community, and the public at large, because all Canadians have a stake in getting this right. While the results of this engagement will guide what the final framework looks like, we believe that, as a starting point, it should include new legislation and policy that would make the recognition and implementation of rights the basis for all relations between indigenous peoples and the federal government moving forward.

This framework gives us the opportunity to build new mechanisms to recognize indigenous governments and ensure the rigorous, full, and meaningful implementation of treaties and other agreements. With this framework, we have a chance to develop new tools to support the rebuilding of indigenous communities, nations, and governments, and advance self-determination, including the inherent right of self-government.

This framework could establish new ways to resolve disputes so that collaboration becomes the new standard and conflict the exception rather than the rule. By including tools that oblige the federal government to be more transparent and accountable, we can build greater trust between indigenous peoples and government.

Lastly, with this new framework, we will be able to better align Canadian legislation and policies with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the government wholeheartedly supports.

We believe that a framework that includes measures such as this one will finally act on many of the recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and set out in countless other studies and reports over the years.

Some may worry that this ambitious approach may require reopening the Constitution. That is not true. In fact, we are finally fully embracing and giving life to the existing section 35 of the Constitution. We will replace policies like the comprehensive land claims policy and the inherent right to self-government policy with new and better approaches that respect the distinctions between first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. This will give greater confidence and certainty to everyone involved.

The federal government’s absence over generations in recognizing and implementing indigenous rights has resulted in social and economic exclusion, uncertainty, and litigation, when our shared focus should have always been on creating prosperity and opportunity for everyone. Better opportunities for indigenous peoples and certainty for indigenous youth are precisely what we hope to achieve through this framework.

Engagement will continue throughout the spring, but it is our firm intention to have the framework introduced later this year and implemented before the next election.
This is work not only for the government, but for this Parliament as well. There will be committee work, witnesses, and vigorous debate in both chambers.

The history of Canada’s relationship with indigenous peoples transcends all governments. The Indian Act was passed in this House, as was section 35. Now, as a Parliament, we have the opportunity, and in fact the responsibility, to finally implement section 35.

We all know that we cannot erase the past. We cannot recover what was lost. What we can do, what we must do, is to commit to being better and doing better. As a start, let us do what the Constitution Act, 1982, has required us to do for almost 40 years.

We will work together to do away with legislation and policies built to serve colonial interests. We will work together as we follow through on our commitments to build a new and better relationship.

Indigenous Canadians and all Canadians are ready for change, ready for a new relationship based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. With a recognition and implementation of rights framework, we can build that new relationship together. It will not be easy, nothing worth doing ever is, but it will be worth it. It will be worth it because we will have taken more steps toward righting historical wrongs. It will be worth it because we will have replaced apathy with action, ignorance with understanding, and conflict with respect. We will have laid the foundation for real and lasting change, the kind of change that can only come when we fully recognize and implement indigenous rights.

Together we will take concrete action to build a better future, a better Canada, for indigenous peoples and for all Canadians. ◉


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