Justin Trudeau: Take your First Steps with First Nations in the Right Way

Trudeau-mania seems to be happening all over again.  Everywhere I turn there is pictures of Trudeau without his shirt showing off his tattoo, dancing in the street, and pictures of First Nations people with Trudeau at various events.  Everyone is filled with euphoria and hope for a better Prime Minister leading the federal government, and a real transition in First Nations-federal relations.  I am not totally convinced this will happen but I will wait and see how true Trudeau is to his promises. Trudea mania will only last as long as there are positive steps foward.

Prime Minister Elect Justin Trudeau made a lot of substantial promises to First Nations during his campaign for Prime Minister and First Nations expect him to walk his talk. Trudeau does not want to walk away in whole or in part from those promises or he will face confrontation, anger and a strong feeling of distrust that will mar his time in office.  After 10 years of living in the kind of negativity we had with Harper, it is time for a change.

The major promises Trudeau made were to immediately put in place a National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered women.  He promised to immediately lift the 2% cap on First Nations funding that has been in place by the Martin Liberal government over 20 years ago.  He has promised to repeal or amend legislation that impacts negatively on First Nations rights or legislation that was passed without proper consultation.  He said he would start to implement the TRC Calls to Action and in particular to implement the principles in the Universal Declaration on Indigenous Rights (UNDRIP).  UNDRIP of course talks of free, prior and informed consent for development projects in First Nations territories and in fact Trudeau did say he would be respecting First Nations rights to say no in an interview he did with APTN.

The question that looms large in my mind is how will Trudeau implement these promises?  Will he be like most of the governments who do things from the top down, make decisions based on what they think First Nations need in a very paternalistic fashion?  Or will he reach out to the 633 First Nations and do proper consultation that may include consent?  How will he set up processes to work with all First Nations because working properly with First Nations is crucial to building collaborative relationships.

A National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered woman (MMIW) impacts on every First Nation communities across Turtle Island.  Having their input on the Terms of Reference and who will head up the inquiry is key.  So is ensuring there is a sufficient budget to carry this out.  Will Trudeau also include women’s groups and the families of MMIW?  Being inclusive on something that impacts all affected people will be so very important.  We do not want to see more people being hurt because they were excluded from being part of meetings, testifying before the inquiry or being denied legal representation as they were in the Missing Women’s Inquiry in BC.  Or the meeting held by AFN where the families were only allowed one representative in a very important meeting.  The National inquiry is important to everyone and cannot be seen as causing more pain to the families and communities and must hold credibility in order to be effective. This has to be done in a respectful, comprehensive way.  It is too important of an issue to not do properly and must be approached in an appropriate way by Trudeau.

Most importantly we need a commitment from the Prime Minister that the recommendations from the inquiry will be implemented immediately upon receipt of the report or even having the ability to make interim recommendations during the inquiry so action can be taken to prevent further MMIW.  We don’t need the report to gather dust on a shelf when there are already over 1200 MMIW and we want to stop that number from growing. This could use an oversight body that will ensure the recommendations are implemented in the way they are intended. 

I wonder who and how the Prime Minister will ask as to what legislation must be amended or repealed.  Will he rely on those Acts that have gone to court, are going to court, or where there have been protests?  Will he ask AFN or First Nations?  The Acts that come immediately to my mind are all the Acts that were changed by the omnibus Bills C38 and 45, Bill C-51, the Financial Transparency Act, and the suite of laws passed in the last few years that had little input from First Nations.  The Prime Minister said he would be looking at the National Energy Board Act and Environmental Acts as they have caused a lot of public doubt over the validity over regulatory processes and this is very necessary especially taking into account First Nations valid concerns about the impact on their rights. The PM must work closely with all First Nations to determine what Acts will need to be addressed and the priority.  The PM must also remember that AFN is not the body to consult.  AFN is an advocacy organization and does not hold the rights and title of the First Nations.  Only First Nations with rights can be properly consulted.  Not to say AFN cannot be part of the conversation and they will be given mandates from the Chiefs as to what they can do.

If the Prime Minister lives up to his commitment to obtain First Nations consent over developments in their territories, he must look at Kinder Morgan, any of the LNG projects with pipelines and fracking where First Nations have been objecting to the projects and not proceed until such time as all First Nations who have been impacted give their free, prior and informed consent.  This needs to include projects that have already been approved.  Projects like Enbridge Northern Gateway project and Site C.  All of which are in court and projects that First Nations are opposed to.  Tsilhqot’in very clearly told the governments to go back and look at decisions already decided on and determine if they were approved with all the principles laid out by the Supreme Court of Canada.  If the Prime Minister is living up to UNDRIP then he must do this.

With regard to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the recommendations were made by the Commissioners based on what they heard.  It is important to implement these recommendations but there are also recommendations that are problematic.  A good example is the recommendation for a National First Nations Education Act.  I am not sure why they would make such a recommendations when First Nations rejected the last proposed Act. National Chief Shawn Atleo as he then was ended up resigning over the controversy.  There are recommendations that need the consent of the First Nations and in depth consultation before implemented.  Education is an issue for the individual First Nations or a regional approach to determine what solutions and mechanisms are wanted by the First Nations. I think having an oversight body to ensure the recommendations are implemented in the right way would be important. Such a body should have powers to compel governments and institutions to act.

If I were a First Nations Chief, I would be immediately writing a letter to the Prime Minister on what I would like to see in the Terms of Reference for a MMIW inquiry and who I would like to see in charge, a woman for starters.  I would list for him all the laws that are problematic and explain why they need to be repealed or amended. I would tell him all the projects that my Nation has not given our consent on and which ones need to be stopped.  I would be asking that not only should the 2% cap be lifted immediately and that we need to re-negotiate the current agreements so we can start to address the short falls in our First Nations. I would also have a rider in every letter that it isn’t consultation and lay out what consultation/consent with my First Nation would be.  I would also be asking how he intends to implement the Tsilhqot’in decision in BC where aboriginal title has never been resolved.

I would work with our Tribal Council, provincial and federal organizations to be putting forward how we want to work with this governments on a Nation to Nation relationship.  I would work on a lobby of the government on what needs to be put in place and how it should be done.  I would also lay out a good social media campaign to get the issues out in the public.  The public needs to be further educated on what is going on in First Nations communities, the promises made by the Liberals and that they need to be implemented. First Nations need to take a pro-active role in directing the Prime Minister so he knows the expectations and has an expert body of First Nations to guide him. 

 Is all this a tall order? You bet!  Justin Trudeau built these expectations when he made these commitments in his election platform and when he told First Nations face to face his intentions so he had better get to work on them as soon as he takes on the office. It is a lot of work to do, work that should have been done many, many years ago, so everyone needs to roll up their sleeves and push the Prime Minister elect to do what he said he would do.  I don't think it matters who is Minister of AANDC as it is the policy an direction set from the top that will set the agenda. Justin Trudeau, those first few steps are so important as they signal to the First Nations how you will work with them and will set the tone for the next four years.  Trudeau: Are you a man of your word? I guess we are gong to find out!

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