Liberals need to get premiers around table on Indigenous issues, says AFN chief – National Post

Posted: October 1, 2021 at 7:42 am

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Trudeau pledged to implement all 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but six years later only a fraction has been completed

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The Liberal government must set up constitutional talks with the premiers to address long-standing Indigenous grievances, says Assembly of First Nations national chief RoseAnne Archibald.

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Its time for all governments, especially the federal government, to begin to solve long-standing issues around rights, inherent rights and treaty rights and land title and land rights and water rights, Archibald said in an interview ahead of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday.

That means setting up constitutional talks with provincial premiers.

Weve won so many court cases in this country and its time for us to sit down and solve these problems, she said. They need to make a commitment to that long overdue first ministers conference with all the First Nations across Canada.

In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said no in response to a call from the previous AFN chief to re-open the constitution to address Indigenous rights and recognize First Nations as an order of government. Section 35 of the Constitution recognizes aboriginal and treaty rights, but does not define them, though a number of Supreme Court decisions have.

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When the House of Commons comes back this fall, Archibald said the government must also work to build together a strong action plan, including timelines, that outlines how the 94 calls to action issued in 2015 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be implemented.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was one of those recommendations. The federal statutory holiday commemorates children who died in residential schools as well as survivors and communities. From the 1880s until the 1990s, 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend the church-run, government funded schools.

The Liberal government created the statutory holiday in June, shortly after the discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites. The remains of 215 children were found at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C., up to 751 remains near a residential school at Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, and 182 unmarked graves near Cranbrook, B.C.

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Given that the federal election was called only months after those discoveries, Indigenous issues and reconciliation could have received more attention during the campaign, said Archibald. Were in the middle of the recovery of our little children from these former institutes of assimilation and genocide. So that was a bit of a disappointment, that there wasnt more attention paid, she said.

Archibald said the government needs to acknowledge the truth behind these institutions. I think that theres been a lot of side-stepping about these institutions. And thats been really a problem in terms of not wanting to acknowledge the truth, she said.

The truth is that genocide happened in Canada. And what are you going to do about it, how are you going to make that right?

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Trudeau has pledged his government would implement all 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but six years later, only a fraction has been completed. A compilation by the National Post in early June, using government documents, CBCs Beyond 94, and research by the Yellowhead Institute of Ryerson University, said 13 had been fully enacted, while the government had taken some steps toward another 60.

Later in the month, the Liberal government appointed its first commissioner of Indigenous languages, and revised the oath of citizenship to recognize Indigenous rights, so completing another two.

Archibald said no government in Canadian history has really brought justice to First Nations in a way that advances our communities and our goals, particularly around the recognition of our inherent and treaty rights. We still have a long way to go in terms of government action.

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First Nations also need a better agreement with the federal government than the memorandum of understanding that the AFN signed under Archibalds predecessor, Perry Bellegarde, she said.

What has that gotten us? Where have we moved the yardsticks? I dont see it anywhere, she said. We need a proper political process that actually has deliverables and times of what we agree were going to achieve together, rather than these sort of ongoing agreements that kind of lead us to further inaction.

Over the past six years, Archibald said the Liberal government has made some unprecedented investments into First Nations, especially compared to chronic underfunding under the previous Conservative government.

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Those were long overdue, though. And they were for basic human right issues like clean drinking water, safe housesAnd so I think that its hard to, in my view, pat somebody on the back, when theyre doing the very basics.

Work on those basics is still far from completed. During the 2015 election, Trudeau promised to end all boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves within five years. As of late September, six months after the five-year deadline, 117 had been lifted since November 2015, but there were still 45 in effect in 32 communities.

Veldon Coburn, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawas Institute of Indigenous Research and Studies, said it was especially irritating to Indigenous peoples that the Liberal government found money to buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline.That work includes difficult infrastructure in rural and remote areas, similar to the challenges in constructing water treatment plants and pipe distribution and collection systems. Why couldnt you have done this for First Nations water? Coburn asked.

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He said the Liberal government speaks out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to Indigenous peoples. While its made historically large investments, the Liberal record on human rights is a different story, Coburn said.

He pointed to the government going to court to appeal a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order for compensation regarding Indigenous children. On Wednesday, the Federal Court ruled against the government and upheld that order, along with a separate ruling the federal government was appealing involving Jordans Principle, which deals with jurisdictional disputes over which level of government should pay for services for Indigenous children.

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Liberals need to get premiers around table on Indigenous issues, says AFN chief - National Post

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