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Thank you Perry for that introduction and for welcoming me back yet again this year.
Let me begin by recognizing that we are on the traditional land of the Algonquin People. We acknowledge them as the past, present, and future caretakers of this land.
Elders, youth, veterans, National Chief Bellegarde, members of the AFN executive committee, and Chiefs-in-Assembly – thank you for the opportunity you give me to be here today.
I want to take a moment first to recognize the outstanding advocacy and leadership of National Chief Bellegarde over the past 6 years.
Perry my friend – thank you for the chance to work in partnership with you on a whole range of issues.
Your strength, your thoughtfulness, the way you’ve challenged me on a whole bunch of things.
The way we’ve been able to work together on a whole bunch more things has been a wonderful journey, a learning experience, and really something that I have valued incredibly these past five years I’ve been able to serve as Prime Minister.
Thank you for everything and I wish you the very best in all the work I know you’re going to continue to do to serve the community and the country in the upcoming year.
Kinanaskomitin my friend.
I lift you up.
Our government of course will continue to work with the National Chief – and with all of you – to advance the priorities identified by First Nations.
In 2015, I made you a clear promise. I pledged to be your partner on a shared journey of reconciliation.
In 2019, after 4 years of work together but much more still to do, I gave you my word that my commitment to this path was stronger than ever. The question before us was how quickly we would take our next steps, not which route lay ahead.
And then, well then came 2020: A year that changed our lives, our country, and our world.
This pandemic has led us to a crossroads. And together, we must decide which way we take.
But I’m not here today to tell you which road that will be.
I’m here to listen.
COVID-19 has reminded us that we’re not in this alone.
I think of what people across the country are doing to keep each other safe.
I think of communities in the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories that have encouraged members to go out on the land to protect elders.
And I think of the leadership of the people gathered here today in ensuring the unique needs of every First Nation community are met.
Across the country, Canadians are getting down to work. It’s a reminder that actions matter more than words.
From the first day of this crisis, our government has stepped up its efforts. We’ve helped Indigenous businesses that have been especially hard-hit to obtain funding, and we have put in place distinctions-based measures aimed at eliminating food insecurity and gaps in social and health care.
As we announced in the Fall Economic Statement, we are investing around $5.4 billion to support Indigenous people, communities and businesses during this pandemic and to advance reconciliation.
Our work is far from done.
With the vaccines that are on the way, we will roll out the largest immunization operation in Canadian history.
We have worked tirelessly to procure enough vaccines for everyone who wants one. These new vaccines present challenges in terms of transportation and distribution. And that’s why I can assure you that our government is working closely with you, and with all our Indigenous partners, to ensure access to a safe, effective vaccine.
No person and no community will be left behind. Not when it comes to a vaccine or any other assistance.
In the last 5 years, we have made progress.
We have supported over 5,000 infrastructure projects for everything from health care facilities to schools. We have lifted long-term drinking water advisories.
We have introduced legislation to protect Indigenous languages and to put communities in the driver’s seat on child and family services.
Together, we have made tremendous progress in just a few years. But if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there is much more to be done.
I hear you when you say that the status quo isn’t good enough. I hear you when you say, to quote National Chief Bellegarde, “this pandemic exacerbates the already dire circumstances in which too many live.”
I hear you. And I agree.
In the Throne Speech this fall, we made the commitment to co-develop distinctions-based Indigenous health legislation, and a distinctions-based mental health and wellness strategy.
This will be key to keeping people of every age healthy and safe.
And we’re not stopping there.
We will continue to close the gaps in community infrastructure.
Whether it’s transitioning off diesel or creating accessible housing, schools, and health clinics, we will work to accelerate our 10‑year commitment, all on a distinctions basis.
This includes support for capacity development, as well as additional investments to follow through on our commitment regarding drinking water in First Nations communities.
Already, we’ve lifted 98 long-term drinking water advisories, prevented 171 short-term advisories from becoming long-term ones, and invested unprecedented resources to end this injustice.
It’s a complex process, and we’ve worked to move it forward as quickly as possible. That said, today, there are still people who do not have access to drinking water.
That is unacceptable. To remedy the situation, there needs to be more sustainable supports – and that’s what we’re going to put in place.
While the pandemic has created certain challenges, we are more committed than ever to our promise of getting all long-term drinking water advisories lifted as soon as possible.
As Minister Miller announced last week, our government will invest an additional $1.5 billion to meet the clean drinking water commitment we made to all First Nations.
Today, as we’re already planning for after this pandemic, we’re at a crossroads on our shared journey. The choices we make today will determine not only where we are tomorrow, but for many years to come.
Tackling climate change is an incredible example of this reality.
Our government is determined to work with our Indigenous partners on adaptation and emergency preparedness, and the development of a green economy. It’s only by working together that we will succeed in achieving our climate targets and protecting our land, water and fresh air for our children and for a better future.
This is our chance to rebuild a better, stronger country for everyone.
And this won’t be possible if people, wherever they are, are left behind because of racism or discrimination.
No one should face threats while exercising their treaty right to fish.
No one should face violence at the hands of police.
And no one should face fear about what may happen – or has happened – to a mother, sister, or daughter.
That is unacceptable.
As we announced in the Throne Speech, our government is committed to not just moving forward, but moving faster, on ending the unacceptable injustices that too many people still face.
We will accelerate work on First Nations policing, including legislating it as an essential service, while expanding the number of communities served and supporting community safety and wellbeing projects.
We will also accelerate work on the National Action Plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Already, we’ve invested in much-needed new shelters. And as we announced in the Fall Economic Statement, we’ll make additional funding available to combat systemic discrimination and violence.
All of this work must rest on a solid foundation. That’s why we will continue to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
Together, we’ve made tremendous progress.
In the past two weeks alone, we’ve made great strides in two key areas: child and family services, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Last week, we officially tabled Bill C-15, to align Canadian legislation with the United Nations Declaration.
This is a major step forward and a testament to your remarkable leadership. I hope that all parliamentarians will support this important piece of legislation.
And the week before, we invested half a billion dollars to ensure that Indigenous communities are able to strengthen their capacity to establish their own child and family services systems.
For the families that are reunited, for the children who are able to stay in their community – the progress we are making is enormous.
Together, we are moving forward. And together, we must decide the path we take to continue.
Our country, just like our world, is at a crossroads.
And while we may not know exactly what the path ahead will hold, I think we know where we want to arrive.
A Canada where everyone has a safe home and clean water.
A future where kids are with their families and traditional languages are celebrated and learned.
A tomorrow where everyone is respected and where everyone has a real and fair chance at success.
That tomorrow is within our grasp. We must not – and we will not – let it slip away.