“I pledge. End violence.” – Achieving Justice, Safety and Security for all Indigenous Peoples
Together with families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and other supporters, I and members of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) national executive stood to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women at a Sisters In Spirit Vigil in Ottawa on October 4, 2012. As you know, this past July, AFN Chiefs-in-Assembly declared October 4 a national day of remembrance of those impacted by and lost to violence. At the same time, we reiterated calls for a National Public Commission of Inquiry on ending violence against Indigenous women and girls, specifically calling for urgent action by governments and all Canadians to end violence.
AFN declared October 18 a national day of action, encouraging community-based events across the regions and with help from CUPE National we launched a postcard and social media campaign aimed at ending violence among and against Indigenous peoples in Canada. As all action starts with the individual, “I pledge. End violence.” encourages Indigenous peoples and all Canadians to make a personal declaration to live without violence. Thousands of people made this declaration at the July Annual General Assembly, signing a banner to live without violence and achieve safe and secure Indigenous communities. Many are now making their pledge online at http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/policy-areas/i-pledge.-end-violence where they can also send an e-postcard to Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanding a National Public Commission of Inquiry on violence against Indigenous women and girls.
The call for such an Inquiry has been strongly made by First Nation leadership over many years, and was reiterated again this July at the Annual General Assembly where Chiefs reinforced the need for a National Public Commission of Inquiry to include hearings, a review of police policies and procedures in regard to searches, investigations and communication between police, officials and families, and the examination of the socio-cultural and socio-economic risk factors associated with Indigenous women and girls.
More specifically, a National Public Commission of Inquiry on violence against Indigenous women and girls could:
- ensure an open and transparent examination of the socio-economic, political and historical factors that lead to increased vulnerability;
- examine police practices and protocols with regards to investigations in incidences where Indigenous women are reported missing, communications with families and among and between jurisdictions;
- build on and examine the substantial – and sadly often unimplemented – recommendations made in previous commissions, inquiries, reports and task forces (such as the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Manitoba Justice Inquiry, National Aboriginal Women’s Summits, etc.) with a focus on identifying critical barriers to their implementation and strategies to overcome these;
- examine supports, experiences and strategies in urban centres;
- provide special focus on the North and the unique perspectives and experiences of Northern First Nations and Inuit communities;
- review innovative practices and community-based supports in preventing violence and achieving reconciliation.
Earlier this month, representatives of the AFN National Women’s Council attended the 3rd National Aboriginal Women’s Summit in Winnipeg, MB, while I attended the Sounding Our Voices event hosted by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. These two events powerfully highlight the need for an urgent and coordinated response – supported by all levels of government – to end the violence faced by too many Indigenous peoples.
AFN consistently advocates in support of justice for First Nation individuals and families impacted by violence, and for adequate and appropriate health supports and preventative measures to better ensure communities are safe. Ending violence and achieving safety and security for Indigenous women and girls is a pressing priority for First Nations, and we continue to urge commitment by governments and all Canadians for a National Public Commission of Inquiry that would respect First Nation rights, laws and ceremony. All efforts to achieve justice and end violence must be inclusive and respectful of Indigenous women, leaders and families and supportive of community-based wellness plans and justice systems, with specific focus on addressing root causes and increasing prevention.
AFN Special Chiefs Assembly on Education – Update
As resolved at the 2012 AFN AGA, we convened a Special Chiefs Assembly on Education October 1-3 in Gatineau, QC. First Nation leaders and technicians in attendance discussed a way forward to achieving secure and stable education systems respectful and reflective of First Nation rights, Treaties, languages and cultures. The delegation reaffirmed a direction forward with the goal of achieving real results for First Nation students, including quality schools, quality instruction based on First Nation teachings, languages and cultures and supported with adequate, stable funding.
Rejecting the unilateral imposition of legislation, First Nations will continue to advance plans to implement First Nations control of First Nations education, including achieving meaningful and effective negotiation of nation-to-nation jurisdictional agreements that will ensure adequate, sustainable and predictable resources.
Our job at the national level is to support First Nation-driven solutions and I will continue to stand in support of all Nations asserting their title and rights and to push for full implementation of Treaty and engagement in development through the very basic standard of free, prior and informed consent. Grounded in First Nation responsibilities, Treaties and inherent rights, First Nation education planning and systems will be locally determined, regionally driven, and nationally supported. Nations and regions will work to develop innovative and new approaches driven by their priorities, needs and jurisdiction. AFN will work to facilitate and coordinate a national strategy based on this work.
We continue to have an opportunity to make real change for our kids, by working together in respect and recognition. The stakes are high. We must come together to ensure we do not lose another generation by allowing the repetition of unilateral approaches that do not fulfill promises or agreements made by our ancestors. With those promises and agreements as our guide, we will achieve equitable education for our peoples. We must, for it is the foundation of our future.
Parliamentary Relations and Legislative Update
AFN continues to provide weekly summaries of key legislation pertaining to First Nations. We are fully engaged, appearing regularly before committees on new or changes to existing legislation in critical areas, as mandated by Chiefs. We will continue to stand firm on the fact that unilateral approaches by government do not respect First Nation rights, or agreements and do not adequately address the needs of First Nations. The Weekly Parliamentary Wrap Up is available at http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/policy-areas/parliamentary-relations.
Thirty Years Later: Section 35 Still Necessary Path Forward
Throughout the last few months, across the country there have been discussions and conferences marking the 30th anniversary of section 35 of the Constitution Act. Earlier this month, I welcomed an invitation to participate in a symposium hosted by the Institute on Governance. This was an opportunity to reflect back the work of First Nations across this country – in asserting their rights to governance based on the principles of Section 35 and those more recently affirmed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Crown-First Nations Gathering.
In my address “Thirty Years Later: Section 35 Still Necessary Path Forward (available at www.afn.ca), I reflected back the work of First Nations from coast to coast to coast and the need for approaches that fully implement Section 35, First Nation rights and Treaties. Returning to the basis of Section 35 is the way forward, to move away from unilateral approaches by government. We can no longer accept government tinkering with legislation that impacts so many aspects of our lives. We must acknowledge now that the expectations and understanding of historical and living agreements are not shared, and to avoid repeating the pattern of a broken system, we must work together to address the current challenges facing First Nations and move forward on priorities based on need and First Nation rights.
The work of recognizing and implementing First nation rights and governments requires a broad-based approach on many fronts. We can start by conducting a full review or audit of current federal polices and processes to assess their consistency with Section 35, and considering an ombudsperson and code of conduct to guide Ottawa in fulfilling its responsibilities to our peoples. We must also speed up resolution of comprehensive land claims by fundamentally transforming the process to fully recognize rights, which would in turn increase the potential and opportunity for our peoples to drive our economies and share in the wealth of the resources extracted from our lands.
In order to fulfil the vision of our ancestors, it is incumbent on us to find the way forward to work together and achieve a better day for our peoples. Our constitutionally protected rights are the foundation of all our work and must be the way forward to achieving healthy and thriving communities where our peoples live, grow and learn. This is also the theme of the upcoming Special Chiefs Assembly.
The Unfulfilled Promise of section 35: Special Chiefs Assembly December 4-6, 2012 – Gatineau, QC
A very busy Fall will culminate with the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly taking place in Gatineau QC December 4-6, 2012. The theme of the Assembly is the “Unfulfilled Promise of section 35” and will include focused discussion on how to focus our efforts on fully implementing First Nations’ rights, exercising sovereignty and achieving our fair share of resource revenues. Strategy and planning sessions will cover key priority areas, including education, water, economic partnerships, environment, fisheries and species at risk, social assistance, mental health, justice and community safety, housing and land rights and claims.
We are pleased to offer a full agenda, including a panel discussion with grassroots initiative March 4 Justice on December 3rd, a parliamentary reception December 4th other important side events, and of course a closing gathering – our annual Winter Celebration on Dec 6th. For more information or to register for the AFN SCA please visit http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/special-chiefs-aseembly-2012.
In order to facilitate efficient and informed deliberation on resolutions, advance submission is required. The deadline for resolutions is Friday November 16, 2012.
I look forward to seeing you next month, if not sooner.