On November 20th, a delegation that included members of the AFN Executive, First Nations Chiefs, regional leadership, Elders and myself met with federal cabinet ministers to discuss joint priorities. This meeting occurred under the AFN-Canada MOU on Joint Priorities, which calls for three meetings a year to assess progress on our shared priorities and confirm directions forward. These meetings provide an important opportunity to engage with the most senior federal ministers for open and constructive dialogue and to assess progress, identify obstacles and seek ways to advance our priorities.
The agenda, consistent with the MOU, included:
- The work towards a co-developed Indigenous Languages Act;
- Working in partnership on measures to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including legislation to support implementation and co-developing a National Action Plan;
- Priorities for a joint policy review including the Comprehensive Claims Policy, Inherent Right Policy, Additions-to-Reserve Policy and Specific Claims Policy;
- Action on the TRC Calls to Action;
- Identifying priorities and measuring progress to close the socio-economic gap between First Nations and other Canadians, with a focus on First Nations education, First Nations child welfare, First Nations housing, water and infrastructure, and First Nations emergency management;
- Joint work towards New Fiscal Relationships;
- First Nations Policing and community safety issues affecting First Nations;
It was a productive meeting with the AFN setting out our positions consistent with AFN resolutions and direction from First Nations across the country. Some highlights and key information:
Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda opened the meeting with a prayer and welcomed us to their territory. AFN Elders Council Chair Elmer Courchene provided opening remarks as well, urging action for future generations by all those present at the meeting. I thank the Elders for their wisdom and guidance.
As Co-chair of the meeting with the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, I identified our priorities and the need for immediate action and, where legislation is concerned, the need to get this done before the next election federal in October 2019.
On Languages, Heritage Minister Joly said Canada re-iterated Canada’s commitment to work with First Nations to co-develop content of legislation to support First Nations objectives to revitalize and recover our languages.
Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould spoke to work in her area on rights recognition. We impressed the importance of moving beyond policies and laws aimed at denial of our rights and towards recognition, implementation and enforcement of our rights, Treaties, title and jurisdiction. She stated First Nations must rightfully determine what will help advance self-determination, and said the government must get its house in order, as indicated by the recent INAC split, the full endorsement of the UN Declaration and the 10 guiding principles she gave to government departments.
The Justice Minister outlined four goals: set standards of conduct on recognition of rights which would include educating officials and guiding them through any new legislation or policy; align laws with the UN Declaration; establish mechanisms to support self-determination; establish mechanisms for accountability and transparency for the relationship.
Minister Wilson Raybould also spoke to the law and policy review, with myself and others clearly stating that First Nations must be directly involved in this work.
On implementation of the UN Declaration, the Minister indicated support for NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s Bill 262, An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She announced later that the Liberals would support the bill (see the next section).
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Bennett spoke to the TRC and said that two-thirds of the Calls to Action are moving forward, and that an Interim Council will soon be announced to fulfill four of the Calls to Action. She agrees with the need for joint work.
First Nations leadership took the opportunity to identify areas for investment throughout the discussions, especially important given that Finance Minister Morneau was at the meeting. The Finance Minister said the timing for the meeting was right because the government has started the federal budgeting process for 2018. He committed to working together with First Nations.
First Nations policing was a substantive topic for discussions with Public Safety Minister Goodale. Many participants spoke strongly of the need to strengthen and expand the programs to put them at par with other police services in the country in terms of salaries, equipment, technology and resources, and to recognize them as an essential service. Minister Goodale acknowledged that the program has not changed since it was first introduced in 1996 and that the budget hasn’t increased since 1999. First Nations emphasized the urgency for action given many agreements end in March 2018. The Minister stated he is aware of this. He is meeting with various parties and referenced the AFN resolution supporting First Nations policing. Minister Goodale said there are two key principles: the need for more resources, as noted; and the need to evolve from a temporary program that expires every few years to one that continues and is seen as an essential service.
On the urgent issue of closing the social and economic gap, Indigenous Services Minister Philpott said this can be addressed through rights recognition and respect, and meeting the minimum standards in the UN Declaration. She committed to attending our upcoming SCA in December to speak more on these matters. AFN Saskatchewan Regional Chief Cameron took the opportunity to inform those present that the work underway on First Nations education is and always will be based on protecting and upholding First Nations jurisdiction and Treaty rights, including our rights to education.
These are some of the key pieces of information from the meeting that I want to share with you. We can provide more information, and I encourage you to contact your Regional Chief or regional representative at the meeting for further information. The proposed date for the next meeting is March 21, 2018.
Justice Minister Announces Government Support for Bill C-262 to Implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Following our meeting on November 21, Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould announced that the government will support Bill C-262, a Private Member’s Bill put forward by NDP MP Romeo Saganash. Bill C-262 seeks to ensure all Canadians laws are consistent with the UN Declaration and requires the federal government to create an action plan to implement the Declaration. The AFN Executive Committee has informed the Justice Minister many times that we support this bill and the path it provides for implementing the UN Declaration.
The bill will go through the government’s legislative process, which means First Nations will have the opportunity to provide input and comment on the Bill. I want to acknowledge and lift up MP Romeo Saganash for his determination, perseverance and strong stand for our peoples and our rights.