On January 14, 2019, the National Chief, members of the Executive Committee and other Chiefs met with Prime Minister Trudeau and members of his Cabinet as part of the AFN-Canada Memorandum of Understanding on Joint Priorities. The Prime Minister and the National Chief co-chaired this meeting, the first of three meetings that will take place under the MOU in 2019. The MOU, signed in 2017, calls for regular meetings to discuss key issues and assess progress on shared priorities. These meetings are an opportunity for open, constructive dialogue to advance First Nations priorities.
The National Chief opened by speaking about the RCMP action on Wet’suwet’en lands the previous week. He stated that reconciliation requires that First Nations laws must be recognized, respected and upheld, and there must be room in Canada for not only common law and civil law, but recognition of First Nation law and jurisdiction too. First Nations inherent rights, Treaty rights and title were themes that flowed throughout the meeting.
The MOU meeting took place shortly after the federal Cabinet shuffle, giving the National Chief and Regional Chiefs the opportunity to connect with the newly-appointed Minister of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), Seamus O’Regan. Due to the importance of the meeting, the former Minister of ISC, Jane Philpott, also attended to provide final comments on her files. The Cabinet shuffle and the upcoming federal election in October were mentioned numerous times throughout the meeting. Minister Rodriguez (Heritage), Minister Bennett and Parliamentary Secretaries McCrimmon (Public Safety), Anandasangaree (Heritage) and Lightbound (Finance) also attended.
The National Chief and the Prime Minister agreed that progress is being made in many areas but there is still much work to do to close the gap.
The National Chief and Regional Chiefs put forward a number of opportunities to maintain progress and the Prime Minister responded with some key commitments.
One commitment is for the AFN and Canada to work toward a National Action Plan for the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration). Such an Action Plan would focus on implementation, which is crucial to fulfilling the principles of the UN Declaration.
Another significant commitment was for the AFN and Canada to initiate new processes to address the problems with Canada’s policies on the Inherent Right to Self- government and Comprehensive Claims, and to reinvigorate processes on Specific Claims and Additions to Reserve. It is important that Canada dismantle or change policies based on the termination of First Nations rights, title and jurisdiction so that they are based on recognition of rights, title and jurisdiction. This work must be done in partnership and cooperation with First Nations.
These assurances at the MOU meeting come after Canada’s commitment to support three pieces of legislation:
- Bill C-262, An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, currently at second reading in the Senate;
- A new bill on First Nations jurisdiction over child welfare, co-developed with First Nations, to be tabled in parliament within a few weeks; and
- A new bill on Indigenous languages, co-developed with First Nations and to be tabled in parliament within a few weeks.
Throughout the meeting, the National Chief and the Regional Chiefs emphasized the importance of these bills passing prior to parliament rising in June which then leads into a federal election. The Executive Committee did an excellent job of presenting on their files and the agenda allowed numerous topics to be discussed. Updates on the progress of work on the joint priorities identified in the MOU were also shared at the meeting.
Much work in other areas, including reconciliation, was already underway before the MOU Meeting. Prior to the Cabinet shuffle, Canada announced its Litigation Directive to Department of Justice counsels to give preference to negotiation over litigation, effective immediately. This government has also committed to covering the costs of intervention under the Default Prevention and Management Policy, removing a burden on First Nations governments’ Band Support Funding.
The meeting was an important opportunity to share information and perspectives on joint priorities with the Prime Minister and cabinet members, and advancing the shared commitment to moving those priorities forward.
The agenda for the meeting, the National Chief’s opening statement and the MOU itself are available on the AFN website at www.afn.ca.