PM Trudeau delivers remarks at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, National Chief Bellegarde, for that kind introduction. Let me begin by recognizing we are on the traditional land of the Algonquin people. We acknowledge them as past, present and future caretakers of this land. This afternoon, let me also join the AFN in honouring of the Last Mohawk Code Talker, from the Second World War, Veteran Louis Levi Oakes. I had the opportunity to sit with him earlier.
And I know that today we are meeting without Elder Elmer Courchesne, a truly tireless leader and advocate, as he battles sickness in Manitoba. Let me offer my deepest well‑wishes to him and to his family.
Elders, youth, veterans, National Chief Bellegarde, members of the AFN executive, Chiefs and assembly, thank you for your welcome. It’s always a pleasure to meet with you, and I appreciate the invitation to once again address you today.
In 2015, just after being sworn in as Prime Minister, I came to you with a clear promise. I gave you my word that we would chart a new path forward and renew the relationship between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples. That we would work as partners to address the legacies of colonialism, racism and paternalism that, for far too long, have held your communities back.
Well, three… well three years later… we’re making true progress and walking forward on our journey of reconciliation. But I know that words aren’t enough, because reconciliation isn’t just about me standing up here and saying that these issues matter, reconciliation is about action. It’s about closing the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Gaps in housing, in clean water, in education, in good jobs, in child welfare.
To achieve true reconciliation, we need real results. And when I say concrete results, I’m talking about making sure people no longer have to sleep in shifts because there isn’t enough good housing. By investing in communities to help build new homes on reserves, we are making progress. More than 14,000 homes are under construction right now or have already been built. That includes new homes for elders in Kanaka Bar First Nation, and affordable housing for families in Mishkeegogamang Ojibway First Nation.… It includes new triplexes for the growing community in Shoal Lake First Nation. Because everyone, no matter they live, should have a safe and affordable place to call home.
Getting a roof over people’s heads is a critically important priority, but it isn’t the only issue we’re addressing. What about the parent who has never been able to bathe their eight-year old in clean, safe water? When I spent the day at Shoal Lake First Nation, I rode on a truck that delivers water to homes and listened to people talk about what life is like when you can’t drink from the tap. It was heartbreaking, and as a dad, I can’t imagine trying to explain to my kids that they can’t trust the water that comes out of their taps.
It’s stories like Shoal Lake’s that reaffirm to me our immediate need to act. And we’ve been hard at work addressing this unacceptable reality for far too many people across the country. Working in partnership with Indigenous communities, our government has lifted 73 long-term drinking water advisories everywhere from Slate Falls Nation in Ontario and Williams Lake in BC, to Pabineau in Quebec.
For Shoal Lake, we’re in the design phase for a new water treatment plant. It’s a complex process, so it takes time to lift advisories, but that being said we are on track to eliminate all advisories by 2021.
But of course, clean water and safe, reliable housing are just the start. Closing the gap also means investing in the next generation. Like the youth I met in Pikangikum. It’s no coincidence that the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action are about young people. They are today’s promise for a better tomorrow. As we implement those calls to action, we’re working with First Nations as partners to make the changes that have been desperately needed for far too long. Just look at the child welfare system. There is no question it is a system that needs to be reformed. I’ve been fortunate to learn from leaders like Grand Chief Dumas, who spoke at a town hall when I was in Winnipeg; and Cora Morgan, an incredible advocate who has reunited literally hundreds of families. From Ashley Bach, a young woman I met with the Anishnaabe Youth Council, who speaks so movingly about the challenges of being raised without her community or her culture. It’s an issue that the people in this room are bringing into focus for all Canadians. I was at the AFN meeting in May, when you passed a resolution calling for change.
Well just a few days ago we took a major step forward together to address the challenges in the existing child welfare system. Indigenous children should not be forcible be taken away from their homes and their parents. And that’s why we’re making it right.
Minister Philpott announced that the Government of Canada will introduce federal child welfare legislation co-developed in partnership with indigenous communities and leaders.
This legislation, which we will table in January, will affirm inherent and treaty rights to exercise jurisdiction over children and families. As a result, we’ll put kids first, have fewer children in care, and reunite more families. Indigenous communities must be in the driver’s seat. As parents and as communities, you know what’s best for your kids. It’s time we respected that. Now this is just a first step, for we’ve got incredible results for kids that we can build on.
We have made progress in primary and secondary education. With an investment of $2.6 billion, we are helping every child get a good start at school and learn Indigenous languages. And as a teacher, I know that classrooms have to be in good shape for kids to learn. That’s why we are building new schools, and repairing the ones that are falling apart. These are life‑changing projects. Manitoba is the perfect example. Last month, we announced a much‑needed investment in four Northern First Nations to help thousands of kids go to school in their communities.
The new Manitoba First Nations school, and the Anishinabek Agreement deliver real self-government over education and show what can happen when we think outside the box and support new school models. Thousands of kids are benefitting. I saw that first‑hand when I visited Pikangikum’s Eenchokay Birchstick School and students proudly showed me their work and even helped teach me a little – very little – Ojibway.
With results like that, it’s clear that we’re on the right track, and not just for schools. Through Jordan’s Principle, we’ve approved over a 171,000 requests for vital services to help get kids the support they need to thrive. When we formed government, you’ll remember that the principle wasn’t even being applied. Today Keanu, a 17-year-old from Manitoba, has the wheelchair and physiotherapy that he needs. And John, a boy who witnessed an unspeakable tragedy, can get counselling and is now doing great at school.
We know we have more work to do for Indigenous children, for residential school survivors, for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. And better housing, child welfare systems, clean water and education alone – as big as they are – don’t add up to reconciliation on their own. I don’t have to tell you that these individual steps need a solid foundation. A commitment to a new relationship with indigenous peoples.
And what does a new relationship mean? Well it means being guided by recognition of rights and decolonizing our laws. That’s exactly what we’re doing by overhauling the Comprehensive Claims and Inherent Rights policy. A new relationship means working together on legislation to preserve and protect indigenous languages, which we’ll introduce in Parliament this January. Which is fitting, because after all 2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Now, you can applaud for that one Terry.
A new relationship means creating a new fiscal partnership. To be frank, making real change costs money. So, we’re rolling out 10-year grants for communities and launching a new fiscal policy for self-governing First Nations, to make sure people can count on stable funding today and for years to come. A new relationship means that in all of our work, whether it’s decolonizing laws, implementing the TRC calls to action, preserving language or changing our fiscal relationship; we’re being led by you.
I promised that we would do things differently, because top-down solutions not only fail, they’re inherently wrong. And perhaps most importantly, a new relationship of partnership and respect means rebuilding trust. Simply put, we must face the moments in Canada’s past where successive federal governments lost the trust of indigenous peoples. I will continue to work with you to rebuild that trust.
When I was on the title-land of the Tsilhqot’in Nation, to deliver an exoneration of the six chiefs who were wrongly treated as criminals and hanged, Chief Alphonse wrote that we were starting a different story. Earlier this year the federal government started a different story with the Lubicon Lake band, too. We settled a historic claim so that they finally received the Land and Treaty benefits to which they are entitled.
We are starting a new chapter with the Williams Treaties First Nations, one based on respect for their rights and interests. This new story is being written little by little. Every day, across the country, we tackle issues and trauma that were not addressed in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, like the 60s scoop and day schools. Moreover, we are working with you, the First Nations, to address your concerns with the specific claims process.
Together, we have made real and significant progress. Together, we can and will go so much further. The legacies of colonialism took more than 400 years to create, so changes won’t come overnight. But with every positive step forward we advance a little further along the right path. Each step forward, each water advisory lifted, each school built is a sign that we’re on the right track.
In 2015, I promised to rebuild and renew the relationship with the Indigenous peoples. Today, I promise to continue that work.
Miigwetch, kinana’skomitin, masi chok, gila’kasla, tshinashkumitin, thank you, everyone.