PM Trudeau delivers remarks at the Canada-Modern Treaty and Self-Governing First Nations Forum
We’re about to begin a very meaningful and historically-significant conversation. I think it’s important that we take a moment to reflect on everything that brought us to where we are today, and also to think about where we want our relationship to be, not just today, but years and generations from now. So thank you Elder for your prayer and for giving us an opportunity to appreciate both how far we’ve come, and how much further we have to go. Thank you.
I first wish to recognize that we are currently gathered on traditional Algonquin territory. I also want to welcome and thank the First Nations who are parties to modern treaties and self-government agreements, my cabinet colleagues and other guests, for being here today.
This truly is a historic moment. It has long been my firm conviction, and you’ve heard me say it many times, including in the mandate letters that guide every member of our cabinet, that no relationship is more important to Canada, than the relationship with Indigenous peoples. But in all the talk of renewed nation-to-nation, Inuit to Crown, and government-to-government relationships, there’s been a missing piece; that missing piece is you.
The communities who have already taken bold and courageous steps and secured for yourselves and for your people modern treaties and self-government agreements. In many ways, you are the examples of what new, modern, progressive, and respectful nation-to-nation relationships can look like. Collectively, you are proof that with time, effort, and a collaborative spirit, we can begin to renew all relationships with Indigenous peoples.
It starts with listening. You told us that for your communities to succeed, you needed to be able to develop sources of revenue and have those revenues remain in your communities. I agree. That’s why we placed a three-year moratorium on the own-source revenue policy to give us time to work with you to co-develop a new fiscal policy that works for your communities.
You also made it clear that there are different paths to self-determination, different ways to transition to self-government, and different ways to rebuild nations. We respect those differences and that’s why we’ve worked with communities across the country to establish sectoral self-government agreements. It’s why we’ve agreed to set up 50 recognition of Indigenous rights and self-determination tables with Indigenous communities as part of our commitment to move away from rigid, paternalistic rules, and toward jointly-developed processes that recognize rights, interests, and needs.
It’s why we’ve established a working group made up of ministers tasked with reviewing federal laws, policies and operational practices, so that we do our part by respecting our constitutional obligations to Indigenous rights and treaty rights, by measuring up to the obligations set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
At the same time, there is much more work still to be done. As you know, we recently decided to restructure departments and create a new department of Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and a department of Indigenous Services. From our perspective, this shift is as much about advancing self-determination, including better implementing existing and new agreements, as it is about improving service delivery. Because we know that too often modern treaties, land claim agreements, and self-government agreements are not being fully implemented in the manner that respects the spirit and intent of those same agreements.
We also know that in your efforts to secure a modern treaty and to take on self-governance, many of you have negotiated for decades, taken on significant debt, and had to make tough decisions because of rigid government policy and procedures that were not based on recognition-of-rights approach. We’re working to address those issues in partnership. We want to work with you to make sure that the end result is worth it. We will live up to the promises we’ve made, because that is the right and honourable thing to do -- and because we want to do better for all the communities that see your success and want to follow in your footsteps.
Last year, at the United Nations’ permanent forum on Indigenous issues, Minister Bennett finally corrected Canada’s position on the declaration and announced that we now support it fully without qualification. I echoed that commitment when I spoke to the U.N. General Assembly just this past September.
I discussed the importance of forming new relationships based on the recognition of rights, notably with respect to the recognition and implementation of self-government as the expression of self-determination.
I shared the stories of Canada’s failures because the old ways, the old colonial relationships, simply did not work. Indigenous peoples existed long before Europeans arrived in what we now call Canada, and those distinct communities continue to exist today. We need to recognize those communities, recognize their inherent right to self-determination, and their right to define their own economic, cultural, and political status. And we need to do... we need to recognize what your experience proves, that when we do this, when we have relationships based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation, and partnership, we have better results; stronger communities, healthier citizens, thriving cultures, and greater economic success.
We are determined to do all that we can to help more Indigenous communities achieve their ambitions, and we know, as you do, that modern treaties and self-government agreements are among the best ways of getting there.
We have a lot on our agenda today; from how to renew our fiscal relationships, to how to make sure your concerns are heard, and your rights are respected. The good news is that today’s conversation is just the beginning. I’m looking forward to meeting with you, the modern treaty and self-governing First Nations, every year as part of the relationship that we must have so that we can continue to build on the great progress you’ve already achieved, and the even greater success I know we can achieve when we work together nation to nation.
I’m joined here by four ministers who I want to briefly introduce to you all; Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, who of course is dealing with issues that are of deep importance and concern to all of you; Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, our Minister of Justice who is also extremely involved in the renewal of the framework around our laws and policies and our approach as a government to how we make this relationship right, and the work and the experience that she brings to this is extraordinarily precious to me and indeed to all of us; Doctor Jane Philpott, who is Minister of Indigenous Services, who is there not because she has direct responsibilities over any of you because... but because she actually can work with you to better understand what the end result is for the many Indigenous communities and peoples not around the table.
The goal, as you all know, with Indigenous Services was to separate it from Indigenous Relations because eventually Indigenous Services should be led by and for Indigenous peoples -- for Indigenous peoples, and eventually there will be no Indigenous Services ministry, which is a goal I certainly know everyone around this table can understand and appreciate.
And finally, I’m pleased to be beside Doctor Carolyn Bennett, who is well-known to all of you, who has the responsibility for the ministry of Indigenous Crown Relations. She will continue to be the person with whom you will work closest to figure out how to make sure that we are all living up to both the spirit and intent of the agreements that you have. How we ensure that the progress you have made is built on, and held up as examples and models that other Indigenous communities can look to to inspire them for their own solutions.
I recognize that every single community and group represented around this table has different approaches, and different challenges, and different opportunities, but I also know that how we compare successes, learn from shared challenges, and work together to respond to specific individual needs is the path forward that is the right one, not just for us in this room, but for all of Canada.
So, I am deeply privileged to be here today with all of you, and very much looking forward to our conversation.