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Bellegarde: no movement on TRC calls to action, one year later

By Chelsea Nash      

Nearing the anniversary of Trudeau’s meeting with national chiefs, Perry Bellegarde wants the feds to return to the table.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, pictured last year, is wondering where the federal government's plan for implementing all 94 TRC calls to action is, while Minister Carolyn Bennett says progress is being made. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

The head of the Assembly of First Nations says he has seen zero movement on the government’s promise to implement 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, more than a year after the commission’s conclusion.

Opposition critics, Romeo Saganash (Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, Que.) for the NDP, and Cathy McLeod (Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, B.C.) for the Conservative Party, also say there has been nothing but silence from the government benches about its commitment to the document.

“We’re pushing,” AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde told The Hill Times at the AFN office in Ottawa last week.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which came into existence as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, travelled across the country gathering testimony from residential school survivors to study the impacts of the residential schools on First Nations communities.

Last year, the TRC provided a report comprised of 94 “calls to action” in the interest of reconciliation. Some of those recommendations included federal, provincial, and territorial governments committing to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document that was endorsed by the Canadian government in 2012.

Another call to action was for the federal government to “appoint a public inquiry into the causes of, and remedies for, the disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls.”

Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett (Toronto-St. Paul’s, Ont.) says the federal government is currently working on 30 of the 45 calls to action that are directly under federal jurisdiction.

“The calls to action are very much a blueprint for what we’re doing,” she said in an interview Tuesday morning.  

“Whether it’s the adoption and commitment to implement the UN declaration, the inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous girls, the calls to action on reform of child welfare…we feel that we’re really working hard on that,” she said. “People can see on the ground that we’re out talking to the people affected and the agencies responsible.”

Last December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) sat down with the national chiefs and presidents from different national aboriginal organizations to discuss the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, funding and the fiscal relationship between the government and First Nations, as well as the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Mr. Bellegarde acknowledged that of those five commitments made by the prime minister last year, “some are moving, kind of…and others aren’t…The one that isn’t is the TRC calls to action.”

He noted there was now an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, one of the calls to action, when there was not one a year prior, but questioned the lack of an overarching plan to implement the calls to action. “Where’s the processes and plan? Are we even working on that? Not yet,” he said.

He said the AFN is pushing the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, and “as many ministers as we can talk to, to say, ‘Hey, this is what the prime minister of Canada said last year in December. We need to sit down, and work together, and work up the plan, and the process, and the strategy, about how this is going to work.’”

Mr. Bellegarde acknowledged that all 94 calls to action don’t rest with just one minister, but span across several ministers’ files, including the minister of health, the minister of justice, and the minister of employment. He said he wants to see some form of political oversight of the government’s work on the file, such as a working group. 

Ms. McLeod said the government should lay out a plan for the implementation of the calls to action.

“There should have been a very methodical process around what they are, who’s responsible, what it’s going to mean, what’s the cost going to be, and I haven’t seen any of that done to date,” she said.

Ms. Bennett also said the government “obviously” has a responsibility to encourage other jurisdictions, such as provinces and territories, and post-secondary organizations, to share the responsibility of implementing the calls to action.

Mr. Saganash said, “they promised they would [implement them], but I haven’t heard anything so far.” He said he is trying to implement calls to action 43 and 44—related to implementing the UN declaration—through his private member’s bill C-262, an Act to Ensure that the Laws of Canada are in Harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Nearing the one-year mark of the meeting with the prime minister, Mr. Bellegarde said he would like to see Mr. Trudeau and other ministers return to that table to “provide a report to the national chiefs of Canada, based on what was said a year ago.”

At the time of the meeting last year, Mr. Trudeau said he was “committed to meeting annually with indigenous leaders from across the country.”

On Tuesday morning, the Prime Minister’s Office announced Mr. Trudeau would host a first ministers’ meeting on Dec. 9 to discuss clean growth and climate change, as well as a meeting with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis leaders, including Mr. Bellegarde. The meeting with First Nations leaders, which premiers are invited to take part in, “will serve as an opportunity to discuss the framework and indigenous perspectives” of the first ministers’ meeting.  

cnash@hilltimes.com

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