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Trudeau promises legal framework for Indigenous rights: Transcript


On Wednesday, Feb. 14, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government plans to introduce a new legal framework to recognize Indigenous rights. Here is a transcript of what Trudeau told the House of Commons.

“I would like to begin by recognizing that we are as we are every day in this House on the ancestral land of the Algonquin people. En septembre dernier aux Nations Unies j’ai pris la parole devant des délégations des quatre coins du monde.

Je leur ai fait part des dures vérités au sujet de la relation longue et complexe qu’entretient le Canada avec les Premières Nations, les Inuit et la Nation Métis. J’ai parlé de l’approche coloniale qui a mené à la Loi sur les Indiens, une loi discriminatoire et paternaliste.

A colonial approach that systematically ignored the history of the Métis Nation and denied its people their rights and that in the name of Canadian sovereignty forced the relocation of entire Inuit communities, starving individuals, uprooting families and causing generations of harm.

Les événements dont j’ai parlé sont j’en suis convaincu bien connus de tous les députés de cette Chambre mais ce qui est remarquables, M. le Président, c’est de quel point ces événements tragiques sont aussi bien connus des Canadiens. You see I just finished a series of town hall visits in communities all across Canada.

READ: Moving from talk to action on Indigenous affairs

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, to improve the quality of life for Indigenous peoples.

There were questions about fishing rights, land claims and pipeline approvals, questions about the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous when and girls, about clean water and about the alarming number of Indigenous children in foster care.

These were thoughtful questions Mr. Speaker and it was immediately clear every time these kinds of questions were asked the room leaned in to hear. 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, questions that strike right at the heart of who we are and what kind of country we want to be.
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 these past few days 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.

There is also reason to be hopeful Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I had the honour of spending some time with Colten Boushie’s family, with his mum Debbie, cousin Jade and uncle Alec and through all their grief and anger and frustration their focus was not on themselves and the tragedy they just 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.

READ: The Liberals’ plans for Indigenous reconciliation are just beads and trinkets

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 went 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.

Il est évident M. le Président que les peuples autochtones et tous les Canadiens savent que le temps est plus que venu pour un changement. En même temps certains voient les engagements ambitieux de notre gouvernement avec une certaine méfiance. Si vous considérez la façon dont les choses ont été gérées par le passé c’est difficile de dire honnêtement que cette méfiance n’est pas justifiée.

Après tout ce n’est pas comme si nous étions le premier gouvernement à reconnaitre le besoin d’apporter des changements et à promettre que nous ferions les choses différemment.

Plus de vingt ans se sont écoulés depuis que la Commission Royale sur les peuples autochtones a réclamé la reconnaissance des peuples autochtones comme nations se gouvernant elles-mêmes et occupant une place unique au pays.

Plus de trente ans se sont écoulés depuis le rapport Penner et les conférences des Premiers Ministres sur les droits des peuples autochtones. Last year marked thirty-five 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 Métis peoples supported by non-Indigenous Canadians that forced that government to reconsider. Imagine what that must have felt like Mr. Speaker to have fought so long, so hard against colonialism, rallying your communities, reaching out to Canadians, riding the Constitution express and in the end to finally be recognized and included, to see your rights enshrined and protected in the foundational document upon which Canada’s democracy rests.

Now imagine the mounting disappointment, the all too unsurprising and familiar heartache and the rising tide of anger when governments that had promised so much did so little to keep their word. You see Mr. Speaker the challenge then as 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 Métis peoples and while there has been some success, progress has not been sustained nor significant. So, over time, it too often feel 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.

Les peoples autochtones comme tous les Canadiens savent que ça doit changer et nous le savons aussi. C’est donc pourquoi nous travaillons fort depuis deux ans pour renouveler la relation que nous entretenons avec les peuples autochtones, une relation fondée sur la reconnaissance des droits, le respect, la collaboration et le partenariat.

Nous sommes sur la bonne voie. We endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without qualification and committed to its full implementation including with government support for Bill C262.

We engaged in new recognition of rights and self-determination negotiations where the government and Indigenous peoples worked together on the priorities Indigenous partners say are necessary to advance their vision of self-determination.

We signed agreements with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation outlining how we will work together to identify each community’s distinct priorities and how we will work together to develop solutions. We established a working group of Ministers to review our federal laws, policies and operational practices to ensure the Crown is meeting its constitutional obligations and adhering to international human rights standards including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

To guide the work of decolonizing Canadian laws and policies we adopted principles respecting Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. Pour préserver, protéger et revitaliser les langues autochtones nous travaillons avec des partenaires autochtones pour élaborer de façon conjointe une loi sur les langues des Premières Nations, des Inuit et des Métis.

Nous avons apporté des changements en vue de reconnaitre les droits autochtones et les connaissances traditionnelles en plus d’inclure davantage les peuples autochtones lorsqu’il y a des développements dans leurs communautés. These efforts are an important start Mr. Speaker but they are just a start.

To truly renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples not just for today but for the next 150 years and beyond, 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 everyone.

Indigenous peoples in Canada should be able to drink the water that comes out of their taps. They should be able to 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 healthcare.

All of these things demand real positive action, action that must include and be grounded in 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.

Today I am pleased to announce that the government will develop in full partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis 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 interactions with Indigenous peoples. The contents of the framework that we build together will be determined through a national engagement led by the Minister of Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs with support from the Minister of Justice.

Plus tôt j’ai cité de nombreux rapports ainsi que plusieurs études des consultations passées. Je comprends que certaines personnes verront toute consultation future comme étant une autre étape visant à ralentir la lutte pour l’autodétermination des peuples autochtones.

Mais soyons clairs M. le Président, aussi responsable, bien intentionnée ou réfléchie soit-elle une solution proposée qui ne vient que d’Ottawa ne servira pas à grande chose. Nous comprenons que les peuples autochtones ont hâte d’amorcer eux-mêmes le travail considérable de rebâtir leurs nations et leurs institutions.

En tant que gouvernement notre travail consiste à appuyer, à accompagner et à travailler en partenariat avec les Premières Nations, les Inuit et les Métis pour établir le cadre et leur donner les outils dont ils ont besoin à mesure qu’ils tracent leur chemin ensemble avec tous les Canadiens.
We’ll also be engaging the provinces and territories and non-Indigenous Canadians, people from civil society, from industry and the business community and the public at large because all Canadians have a stake in getting this right.

While the results of this engagement will guide what the final framework looks like we believe that as a starting point it should include new legislation and a policy that would make the recognition and implementation of rights the basis for all relations between Indigenous peoples and the federal government moving forward.

This framework gives us the opportunity to build new mechanisms, to recognize Indigenous governments and ensure rigorous full and meaningful implementation of treaties and other agreements. With this framework we have a chance to develop new tools to support the rebuilding of Indigenous communities, nations and governments and advance self-determination including the inherent right of self-government.

This framework could establish new ways to resolve disputes so that collaboration becomes the new standard and conflict the exception rather than the rule. By including tools that oblige the federal government to be more transparent and accountable we can build greater trust between Indigenous peoples and government.

Enfin grâce à ce nouveau cadre nous pourrons mieux aligner les lois et les politiques canadiennes sur la Déclaration des Nations Unies sur les droits des peuples autochtones que le gouvernement soutien sans réserve.

Nous croyons qu’un cadre comportant des mesures comme celles-ci donnera enfin suite à bon nombre des recommandations formulées par la Commission Royale sur les peuples autochtones et par la Commission de Vérité et de Réconciliation et dans d’innombrables autres études et rapports conclus au fil des ans.

Mr. Speaker, some may worry that this ambitious approach may require reopening the Constitution. That is not true. In fact we are finally fully embracing and giving life to the existing Section 35 of the Constitution and so we’ll replace policies like the comprehensive land claims policy and the inherent right to self-government policy with new and better approaches that respect the distinctions between First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

This will give greater confidence and certainty to everyone involved. The federal government’s absence over generations in recognizing and implementing Indigenous rights has resulted in social and economic exclusion, uncertainty and litigation when our shared focus should have always been on creating prosperity and opportunity for everyone.

Better opportunities for Indigenous peoples and certainty for Indigenous youth are precisely what we hope to achieve through this framework. Engagement will continue through the spring but it is our firm intention to have the framework introduced later this year and implemented before the next election.

Ce travail mettra à contribution non seulement le gouvernement mais aussi ce Parlement. Il y aura des travaux des comités, des témoins à entendre et des débats vigoureux et ce dans les deux Chambres. L’histoire de la relation qu’entretient le Canada avec les peuples autochtone transcende tous les gouvernements M. le Président.

La Loi sur les Indiens a été adoptée dans cette Chambre tout comme l’a été l’article 35. Maintenant en tant que Parlement nous avons l’occasion et surtout la responsabilité d’enfin mettre en œuvre l’article 35. M. le Président, nous savons tous que nous ne pouvons pas effacer le passé.

Nous ne pouvons pas retrouver ce qui a été perdu. Ce que nous pouvons faire, ce que nous devons faire c’est nous engager à être meilleur, à faire mieux. Pour commencer faisons ce que la loi constitutionnelle nous oblige à faire depuis presque quarante ans. We will work together to do away with legislation and policies built to serve colonial interests.

We will work together as we follow through on our commitments to build a new and better relationship. Mr. Speaker, Indigenous Canadians and all Canadians are ready for change, ready for a new relationship based on recognition, rights, respect, cooperation 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. It will be worth it. It will be worth it because we will have taken more steps towards 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. Together we will take concrete action to build a better future, a better Canada for Indigenous peoples and for all Canadians. Merci.