‘We are all impatient’: Trudeau promises First Nations leaders fundamental change
PM says Liberal government has enacted major changes that will be difficult for others to undo
John Paul Tasker · CBC News
Amid much talk of the next federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday promised First Nations chiefs further reform to the often fractious relationship between Ottawa and Indigenous people that will be difficult for his political successors to reverse.
Trudeau said at a special meeting outside Ottawa that he understands First Nations leaders’ sense of urgency to address some pressing social issues, namely the sorry state of the country’s child welfare system, but he said the Liberal government also has its eye on the long term.
“I get the underlying impatience about this issue,” Trudeau said. “We are all impatient to move forward in concrete, tangible, real ways that turn the page decisively, and comprehensively.”
Praising his own government’s promise to begin decolonizing Canada’s laws, adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and move to make it easier for First Nations to pursue self-governance, Trudeau said the government is focusing on reforms that will empower Indigenous people and end a cycle of dependence on other levels of government.
Citing his father’s own time as prime minister, Trudeau said he saw Pierre Trudeau toil away on some issues that are now simply “footnotes of history” 30 years on.
“A lot of things just don’t last … and I know my focus as a leader is very much trying to maximize my energy, my focus and the limited resources on things that are going to make a meaningful difference not just now, but for generations to come.”
The prime minister said that since the last election, the Liberal government has enacted major changes that will be difficult for others to undo, namely the creation of yearly Crown-Indigenous policy tables, splitting the Indigenous Affairs Department to provide a renewed focus on signing modern-day treaties and rolling out billions in new funding to close fiscal gaps.
“No one is going to be able to back up on this path forward that we’re taking, that is the true legacy of this 2½-year relationship,” Trudeau said. “There are things that will never be able to be undone, and that is a good thing.”
The chief leading negotiations with the federal government on Indigenous languages legislation — which proponents hope will protect the extinction of some mother tongues — asked Trudeau if he could promise the bill would be enacted before the end of the Liberals’ first mandate.
“I recognize your faith in my ability to get re-elected,” Trudeau quipped to laughter from the audience before assuring chiefs it’s a priority for his government, but he wants to co-develop the legislation with Indigenous leaders.
“Ottawa won’t tell you guys how to protect your languages,” he said. “We’re going to take the time you feel is necessary to get this right.”
In December 2016, Trudeau promised to enact an Indigenous languages act, “co-developed with Indigenous peoples, with the goal of ensuring the preservation, protection, and revitalization of First Nations, Métis and Inuit languages.”
The next federal election is Oct. 21, 2019.
About the Author
John Paul Tasker
John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC’s Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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