National Chief’s Report
To my fellow Chiefs and First Nations Leaders:
As we reflect on our progress over the past year, I want to begin by noting the important role First Nations electors played in helping to elect a Government that is expressly committed to rebuilding the Crown’s relationship with our peoples on a foundation of rights recognition. The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau has expressed his Government’s intentions in the mandate letters addressed to Cabinet Ministers and released on the Prime Minister’s website: “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.”
This is a good time to reflect on how we got here. Following the release of the AFN’s election priorities document in August (Closing the Gap: 2015 Federal Election Priorities for First Nations and Canada), AFN leadership pressed all federal parties to commit to take action on a wide range of First Nations issues as a national priority.
In the spirit of non-partisanship, our Closing the Gap priorities document was shared with all federal party leaders. The Leaders of the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party and the Green Party each responded. Each of these parties also accepted our invitation to address the AFN’s Election Forum, held in Edmonton on October 7th. At this event, First Nations citizens and leadership had an opportunity to hear presentations from the Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the NDP), Carolyn Bennett (then critic of Aboriginal Affairs) and Brenda Sayers (Green Party candidate), and to ask questions of the speakers. This event was webcast and was a huge success. In the end, each of these parties included key elements of our Closing the Gap priorities in their party platforms. Requests to the Conservative Party went unanswered.
Members of your AFN Executive and I were very pleased to provide these opportunities for discussion of First Nations elections issues and priorities. Throughout the 2015 Federal Election, we witnessed a very high level of engagement and voter participation by First Nations in all parts of Turtle Island. With the impressive efforts of many independent “rock-the-vote” initiatives by Indigenous activists and volunteers, it is fair to say that engagement and turn-out by First Nations people in Election 2015 reached unprecedented levels.
A record 10 Indigenous Members of Parliament were elected on October 19th, and we congratulate each and every one of them. We are all especially proud that Jody Wilson-Raybould, a former Regional Chief for British Columbia, is now Canada’s new Minister of Justice.
As National Chief, I will work with the AFN Executive to build relationships and ensure the new government meets its commitments to First Nations. Our message has been clear – the rights agenda and the development agenda of all First Nations are equally important and must be addressed.
Much work lies ahead to support all First Nations in securing the full respect of our fundamental rights and to advance our respective development priorities. All of this will be carried out in accordance with mandates from Chiefs-in-Assembly.
The new federal government has committed to many significant actions such as the full implementation of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Many have long been on First Nations’ agendas:
- Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Establishment of a national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
- A review of federal laws and policies to ensure respect of First Nations’ fundamental rights
- A lifting of the 2% cap on annual funding of essential services to First Nations and movement towards “sufficient, predictable and sustained funding for First Nations communities”
- Increased funding for First Nations’ education
- An end to boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves within five years
- Support for Indigenous languages.
At this AFN Special Chiefs Assembly we will again discuss the areas in which First Nations wish to work to support one another. We also will continue our work together respecting Nation Building and AFN Renewal.
I have been energized and inspired by each of the events and gatherings I have had the honour to attend over the past year as National Chief. These have provided treasured opportunities to engage in ceremony and dialogue with many of you, for which I am truly grateful.
I am buoyed by a renewed sense of optimism as I consider the great work we have to do in the year ahead. I am committed to working in the spirit of respect and integrity that our ancestors have taught us. I look forward to receiving your counsel and your wisdom in the days to come. Together, we will, Close the Gap in well-being and secure the fullest implementation of our fundamental rights as nations and peoples.
National Chief, Assembly of First Nations