Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette says the department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs may have to be rebuiltÂ entirely ifÂ reconciliation is to happen.
The MP from Winnipeg Centre, Man. said he thinks the history of the department that was responsible for many years for the marginalization of indigenous people runs too deep, and that for the culture to truly change, an entirely new department, staffed with as many indigenous people as possible, ought to be created.
Mr. Ouellette, who served in the military in his youth, compared changing government culture on indigenous rights to the changing of military culture to recognize human rights.
âIn 1996, we had huge issues surrounding harassment and human rights [in the military],â he said. âWe had a managerial system that was completely broken. I was told when I joined the military that I did not have human rights.â
Mr. Ouellette’s father was a mix of Cree and MĂ©tis. His mother emigrated from Britain as a child.
Military culture is finally changing after two decades, Mr. Ouellette said, referencing the more strict measures put in place to prevent harassment within the Armed Forces.
The long journey to cultural change is why the Liberal backbencher thinks Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada ought to be done away with as a department.
âAre we able to modify that culture within that department? Frankly, Iâm not convinced we are,â he said.
Mr. Ouellette said the government should âreally try and build another department,â which would aim for 100 per cent new hires who are indigenous, and âwho understand the issues.â
The reason the department has a problematic culture, he said is â1867.â
âThey have been a department [where] their entire goal has been the destruction of indigenous peoples. They were responsible for the cultural genocide of indigenous peoples. It has a terrible history, that department. … The words, the actions, the thoughts of the past, maintain themselves into the present and into the future of that department. Culture is something that is very hard to undo.â
He said changing the culture within government is part of a âholisticâ approach to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Mr. Ouellette introduced a private memberâs bill on Dec. 14, C-332, demanding the government be held accountable on its commitment to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
âI think every government needs to be held to account in implementing UNDRIP,â the MP said. âAt the end of the day, this is something our government is committed to, but in 10 years, when thereâs a new government, I think this should still be going on.â
The current Liberal government has been criticized for its lack of tangible commitment to the UN declaration that it officially adopted this past spring.Â
Private members’ bills rarely become adopted into law.
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett (Toronto-St. Paul’s, Ont.) announced to the United Nations in May that the government intended ânothing less than to adopt and implement the declaration in accordance with the Canadian Constitution.â
But since then, the implementation portion of the commitment has been questioned. One the biggest critics of the governmentâs commitment to UNDRIP has been NDP MP Romeo Saganash (Abitibi-Baie James-Nunavik-Eeyou, Que.).
Mr. Saganash, who is his partyâs critic for intergovernmental aboriginal affairs, has introduced his own private memberâs bill, C-262, âto ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmonyâ with the UN declaration.
When introducing the bill in the House of Commons, Mr. Saganash said, âa central component of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action is to use the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.â He said his bill would provide the legislative framework for a âlong overdueâ national reconciliation.
After Mr. Ouellette introduced his bill, Mr. Saganash criticized it on Twitter. An individual under the username âLeah ProudLakotaâ tweeted at Mr. Ouellette saying his bill was something that was already covered within Mr. Saganashâs. âR U reducing his Bill to 1 article?â she wrote.
Mr. Saganash responded: âGood [question]. But even then, his PMB is so poorly drafted. What is he up to?â
The Hill Times could not reach Mr. Saganash for comment.
In Mr. Saganashâs bill, he does indeed call upon the minister of Indian and Northern Development to submit a report to each house of Parliament every year including and between 2017 and 2037, on a national action plan for reconciliation, and âall measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.â
When asked forÂ his thoughts on the governmentâs progress on the implementation of UNDRIP, Mr. Ouellette said âweâre getting there.â
âI think weâre starting to move down the right path,â he said, pointing to an announcement Thursday from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), flanked by leaders from the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and the MĂ©tis Nation.
The prime minister committed to a yearly meeting with First Nations leaders, as well as a $10-million grant to the Truth and Reconciliation Centre at the University of Manitoba, and the creation of a national council for reconciliation. Â Â
âThereâs a lot of things we could be doing to improve it, but itâs starting,â he said. âLike anyone, I wish we could move faster.â
The office of Minister Bennett said it was reviewing Mr. Ouellette’s bill. It did not respond to questions asking for a response to his proposal to get rid of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
Mr. Ouelletteâs bill says a report on the declaration should be tabled every year within 15 sitting days of June 2. That day is specifically outlined for a reason, he said.
âJune 2 would place us around June 21, or June 22. June 21 is National Aboriginal Day. Itâs a wink and a nod that you celebrate, and then a couple days later, hereâs our report,â he said.