Trust in Reconciliation over Assimilation
Media Release: Crown-First Nations Summit
There were two visions for the Crown-First Nations relationship at the summit meeting yesterday in Ottawa: assimilation and reconciliation.
And there was one over-riding concern: trust.
From Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan, we heard self-congratulation for the Conservative record over the past six years and a desire to implement incremental change under the framework of the Indian Act. Their suggested changes include privatization of reserve lands and legislation that, rather than supporting self-government, imposes provincial rules on reserves.
As Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould eloquently rebutted, such changes are unilaterally imposed, emphasize individual rights and continue the colonialist, racist regime established in the 1876 Indian Act. For so long as the Indian Act governs, the policy of assimilation will not change.
As anyone paying attention to the diminishing quality of life on many reserves knows, the Conservatives have nothing to be proud of in their record. That does not build trust.
From National Chief Shawn Atleo, we heard a desire to reset the existing dynamic, with a return to the original nation-to-nation relationship embedded in the treaties, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These are the source documents of reconciliation.
And as my friend Ovide Mercredi’s speech on behalf of the treaties pointed out, the answer is not to be found with incrementalism, it is about honouring promises long-since broken. It is about rebuilding trust.
While the Prime Minister says he has endorsed the UN Declaration, his accompanying language claims, wrongly, that it has no legal force and effect in Canada. Such an assertion fatally undermines the endorsement. That does not build trust.
The continued imposition of a Conservative legislative agenda that can only result in the assimilation of first peoples does not build trust.
The Penner Report in 1983, the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996, and the repeated words of First Nations citizens and leaders year after year have pointed the same way forward. There must be empowerment of First Nations and an end to interfering control from distant bureaucrats. As Chief Wilson-Raybould said, we are not wards of the state. Only in rejection of paternalism can we move toward reconciliation.
The Prime Minister is right about one thing. There must be concrete action, and that is the basis upon which this federal government will be judged.
There must be mutual agreement toward a better future and that means collaborative legislation, self-government agreements, and honouring the treaties.
There must be a sharing of the wealth of resource development on traditional territories and that means resource revenue sharing on a government-to-government basis, not a passing of responsibility to private interests.
There must be an abiding attention to protecting our fragile environment and its impact on the health and livelihoods of the people who live on the land.
There must be respect for the legal and historical rights of First Nations, just as First Nations continue to respect the rights of all Canadians.
There must be reconciliation and an end to assimilation.
That is how trust will be built.
Building trust between peoples has been my life’s work. I believe it can be done.
That is why I am running to become Leader of the Official Opposition and Canada’s next Prime Minister.