• Canada's Indigenous people have been victims of the deliberate denial of their human rights and systemic racism #FindingLegitimacy
  • Ministers are engaging with Indigenous peoples to ensure laws are based on human rights and to advance reconciliation #FindingLegitimacy
  • Reconciliation and addressing the challenges facing Indigenous Peoples is arguably Canada’s biggest policy challenge #FindingLegitimacy

**On November 29, 2017, the Centre for Public Impact and the Public Policy Forum staged a #FindingLegitimacy event in Regina, Canada, which helped spotlight the views of Indigenous youth on reconciliation and nation-building. It was a remarkable few hours of discussion and one we were honoured to take part in. Here is some background on Canada’s First Nations as the country moves towards truth and reconciliation.**

 

Let’s start with the good news. The Government of Canada has stated its commitment to achieving reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through a renewed, nation-to-nation, government-to-government, and Inuit-Crown relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership as the foundation for transformative change.

But despite this promise – and Canada is one of the few countries that have recognised Indigenous rights in its Constitution – Indigenous people have been victims of the deliberate denial of these rights, systemic racism, paternalism, incompetent administration, a lack of adequate resources, and – according to some – cultural genocide.

The fact that Canada has one of the highest standards of living in the world matters little to Indigenous people. They lag well behind the national average in terms of educational achievement, workforce participation and income, and well ahead of the Canadian average in terms of incarceration and recidivism, diabetes and suicide, to name only a few indicators. And in many cases, Indigenous people lack the basic services that most other Canadians take for granted: adequate housing, access to potable water, good schools, decent health services, food security and public safety.

So while many have heartedly applauded the Prime Minister’s commitment to a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, some have argued that the government – two years into its mandate – has failed to live up to the ambition of his commitment.

The next 150 years

This year, we Canadians celebrated our country’s 150th birthday. It is time, though, to ask what we want the next 150 years to look like and the role First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation will have in building a stronger Canada.

To this end, a Working Group of Ministers is engaging with Indigenous peoples to ensure laws, policies and operational practices are based on the recognition of rights and to advance reconciliation. This work will be nothing short of transformative and requires a whole-of-government approach.

The Working Group is taking a principled approach to the review of laws and policies to seek to ensure that the Crown is meeting its constitutional obligations with respect to Aboriginal and treaty rights; adhering to international human rights standards, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and supporting the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

This review of laws and policies will be guided by Principles Respecting the Government of Canada’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples. In addition, they are intended to reflect a commitment to good faith, the rule of law, democracy, equality, non-discrimination, and respect for human rights. They will guide the work required to fulfil the government’s commitment to renewed nation-to-nation, government-to-government, and Inuit-Crown relationships.

From steps to strides

In its defence, the government has pointed to a number of concrete actions since its election in 2015. It has taken steps to address important social, economic and social needs by, for example, eliminating the 2 percent funding gap, which has been in place for over 20 years, and committing $11.8 billion over 5 years to support Indigenous communities. They have also launched the National Inquiry Into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But despite such steps, there are many who feel that the story of Canadian inclusion, which features largely in our country’s narrative, has not only deliberately and malevolently excluded Indigenous Peoples from sharing in Canada’s prosperity but also sought to extinguish the very existence of Indians in Canada.

That this issue arouses strong feelings and passions is self-evident, so much so that achieving reconciliation and addressing the shameful socio-economic conditions facing Indigenous Peoples is arguably Canada’s biggest policy priority. It is clear, however, that reconciliation does not seem possible without putting the past, the present and the future into a context in which concrete actions are taken that help repair, improve and rebuild the relationship.

Building the trust and legitimacy required to take these actions may be this government’s greatest challenge and it is one it must meet – Indigenous people deserve nothing less.

 

**The above blog is based on Allan’s speaking notes at the #FindingLegitimacy event in Regina. It has been edited for length and format**

CPI will be publishing a paper on how governments can start to build legitimacy in the New Year. Our thanks to the Public Policy Forum and the young people who gathered at the First Nations University on 29 November. 

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