First Nations leaders are raising concerns about a proposed set of policies and laws from the federal government.
Announced last February 14 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the proposed Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework was touted as a way for the government to “recognize, respect and implement Indigenous rights, including inherent and treaty rights, and provide mechanisms to support self-determination,” according to government documents.
But some First Nations leaders say the government is engaged in a “sham process” that doesn’t reflect the priorities and agenda of First Nations.
“The standard they’re trying to set is nothing more than a legislated inherent rights policy, negotiated with Canada,” explained Gord Peters, Deputy Grand Chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians. “When you analyze the process, there’s nothing about self-determination, inherent rights, recognition of the treaty relationship, or consent.”
After announcing the proposed framework, the federal government held 13 weeks of consultation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations, leaders and individuals across the country, up until June.
In those meetings, summaries of which are available online, participants outline a range of issues they want to see the government deal with – housing, language, child welfare, finances, control over land, and strengthening Indigenous governments are common themes.
However, many participants raised issues with the process itself, saying the government needs to consult with more groups under a looser timeline. Critics also note that the discussion questions were chosen by government and not First Nations.
“They opened the door in a few cities for a day,” Peters said. He also says that British Columbia chiefs said the summaries of the meetings posted by the government don’t represent the actual dialogue they had.
The Trudeau government states it wants to overhaul the Comprehensive Land Claims and Inherent Right policies that have been widely derided by Indigenous groups.
It says the new framework should conform to the Canadian constitution, while also aligning with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and 10 new principles the government recently introduced for dealing with Indigenous peoples.
Since coming to power, the government had resisted aligning itself with the UNDRIP until eventually accepting a private member’s bill to that effect from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou MP Romeo Saganash.
However, months after concluding the consultations, the framework seems to only exist as a theoretical document. There are no concrete proposals, only a list of what could eventually become laws and policies.
Peters also criticized the introduction of the 10 principles by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould last year as coming without input from First Nations. Peters has called on the government to abandon them, and to restart the process from the beginning.
“They have to stop what they’re doing, and say what we did was a mistake, let’s sit down and do it together and talk about what principles will guide this relationship,” Peters told the Nation.
It’s also unclear whether the process will conclude before the next federal election in October 2019, which could see a new government with new priorities.
The CBC reported that the government won’t be able to get the process passed by Parliament by late spring before the government breaks for the fall election. They had hoped to propose legislation by Christmas.
At the recent Assembly of First Nations (AFN) meeting in Ottawa in early December, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett suggested that the process would be delayed to deal with numerous concerns.
“We have clearly heard you – you want more time and more deep engagement before legislation is developed that speaks to your inherent and treaty rights and reconstituting nations. The Prime Minister has promised we will take the time to get this right,” she told assembled chiefs and delegates.
However, Peters isn’t convinced the government has abandoned the process.
“How long did it take for the government to put forward legislation to put postal workers back to work? They could pass this legislation very fast if they wanted to,” he said.
At the same AFN assembly, 400 youth and chiefs attended a rally on Parliament Hill opposing the framework. A resolution was also passed that called for a new beginning on the framework.
For now, Peters and other First Nations leaders will continue to meet and put together a plan of action, while pushing the AFN to support a national dialogue.
“The most important thing for us is getting into communities. The youth rallies are reflective of that work in our communities – that’s what we have to do to inform our citizens if we’re going to stop this.”