OTTAWA – Excerpts from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech Wednesday on his Liberal government’s plans for a new legislative framework for relations with Indigenous people:
“I just finished up a series of town hall visits in communities all across Canada. And everywhere I went, there was at least one person who wanted to know what our government is doing to combat racism, to help advance reconciliation, and improve the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples.
“There were questions about fishing rights, and land claims, and pipeline approvals. Questions about the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, about clean water, and about the alarming number of Indigenous children in foster care.
“These were thoughtful questions … and it was immediately clear that every time these kinds of questions were asked, the room shifted. This was, in part, a show of support for the people who stood up and asked some tough questions. But it was also a signal that these are questions that Canadians want answered.”
“One of those questions is how we, as a government, recognize and implement the rights of Indigenous Peoples. We’ve seen those questions grow in number and intensity in just this past week, as more and more Canadians come to grips with the fact that we have so much more work to do.
“More work to push back against the systemic racism that is the lived reality for so many Indigenous Peoples. More work to deal with the fact that too many feel and fear that our country and its institutions will never deliver the fairness, justice, and real reconciliation that Indigenous Peoples deserve.”
“Yesterday, I had the honour of spending some time with Colten Boushie’s family. With his mom Debbie, cousin Jade, and uncle Alvin.
“And through all their grief and anger and frustration, their focus was not on themselves and the tragedy they have endured, but on how we must work together to make the system and our institutions better. Better for Indigenous youth, for Indigenous families, and for all Canadians.
“We have a responsibility to do better. To be better. To do our best to make sure that no family has to endure what they have gone through.
“Mr. Speaker, the criminal justice system is just one place in which reforms are urgently needed.
“Reforms are needed to ensure that — among other things — Indigenous Peoples might once again have confidence in a system that has failed them all too often in the past.
“That is why we will bring forward broad-based, concrete reforms to the criminal justice system, including changes to how juries are selected.”
“Last year marked 35 years since Aboriginal and treaty rights were recognized and affirmed through Section 35 of the Constitution Act.
“You might recall, Mr. Speaker, that the government of the day — led by my father — did not intend to include these rights at the outset.
“It was the outspoken advocacy of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples, supported by non-Indigenous Canadians, that forced the government to reconsider.”
“You see, Mr. Speaker, the challenge — then and now — is that while Section 35 recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and treaty rights, those rights have not been implemented by our governments.
The work to give life to Section 35 was supposed to be done together with First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. And while there has been some success, progress has not been sustained, or carried out.
And so over time, it too often fell to the courts to pick up the pieces, and fill in the gaps.
More precisely, instead of outright recognizing and affirming Indigenous rights — as we promised we would — Indigenous Peoples were forced to prove, time and time again, through costly and drawn-out court challenges, that their rights existed, must be recognized and implemented.”
“To truly renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples — not just for today, but for the next 150 years — we need a comprehensive and far-reaching approach. We need a government-wide shift in how we do things.
“We need to both recognize and implement Indigenous rights because the truth is, Mr. Speaker, until we get this part right, we won’t have lasting success on the concrete outcomes that we know mean so much to people.
“Indigenous Peoples in Canada should be able to drink the water that comes out of their taps. They should be able go to sleep in homes that are safe, and not overcrowded. Indigenous children should be able to stay with their families and communities, where they are known and loved.
“And Indigenous youth should not grow up surrounded by the things that place them at elevated risk for suicide — things like poverty, abuse and limited access to a good education and good health care.”
“All of these things demand real, positive action — action that must include the full recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights. We need to get to a place where Indigenous Peoples in Canada are in control of their own destiny, making their own decisions about their future.
“And so today, I am pleased to announce that the government will develop — in full partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people — a new Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework that will include new ways to recognize and implement Indigenous Rights.
This will include new recognition and implementation of rights legislation. Going forward, recognition of rights will guide all government relations with Indigenous Peoples.”
“Mr. Speaker, Indigenous Peoples and all Canadians are ready for change. Ready for a new relationship based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. With a Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework, we can build that new relationship, together.
“It won’t be easy, Mr. Speaker. Nothing worth doing ever is. But it will be worth it. It will be worth it because we will have taken more steps toward righting historical wrongs.
“It will be worth it because we will have replaced apathy with action, ignorance with understanding, and conflict with respect. We will have laid the foundation for real and lasting change — the kind of change that can only come when we fully recognize and implement Indigenous rights.”