Dr. L. Jane MacMillan



15 November 2016

Thank you Chief PJ for bringing Donald into the room tonight and thank you Mr. Martin. It is a pleasure to be here. In Canada Indigenous rights are in part defined and delimited through litigation and negotiation. But the implementation and the exercising of rights are highly contentious processes, often confounded by jurisdictional contests between federal and provincial governments over fiduciary responsibilities and pervasive systemic discrimination that devalues Indigenous knowledge and favors assimilation over recognition. The issue of recognition is critical. The legitimacy of Canadian claims over sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and their lands are being challenged through Indigenous people’s reinvigoration of identity politics, the successful pursuit of treaty rights, and the national movement of reconciliation. In response to the negative legacy of colonization, Indigenous communities across Canada are demanding not only participation in but control over the decision-making and institution-building processes that influence the quality of their lives that Mr. Martin was speaking to, and reflects their constitutionally and treaty-protected rights as Indigenous peoples. Key legal successes are linked with Indigenous peoples' productive mobilization of the spirit and capacity for positive and empowering transformations. But litigation is risky. It is expensive, it is slow and it is narrow.

There is also a history of unprecedented negotiation in this country and through the Kelowna Accord which I'd like to speak to briefly, which was led, of course, by the Right Honourable Paul Martin. The Accord was based on 18 months of negotiation and central to this process was that the representatives of the 5 national Indigenous organizations drove that dialogue. Not the federal or provincial or territorial governments, but communities drove the dialogue. And it tackled the diversity challenge. It did not try to generate a pan-Indigenous, one-size-fits-all approach. Each of the 5 national organizations concluded individual agreements framing their own constituencies' priorities. The Kelowna Accord was a profoundly democratic strategic planning process with specific targets for addressing social inequalities through a $5.1 billion investment over 5 years. It was comprehensive, it was multi-year, it was a multi-level initiative, designed to forge a new and workable relationship and lasting change. Collaboratively, the Indigenous representatives identified the major issues they wanted addressed. A roadmap was crafted, a series of core negotiations took place at sectoral round tables based on 6 themes or quality of life priority areas which included health, lifelong learning, housing, economic opportunities, negotiations and accountability. In addition to the above, the First Nations Accord, particularly the priorities, were directed to government recognition of the sovereignty and self-determination of First Peoples access to traditional territories and resources; getting rid of the Indian Act; honouring and implementing Section 35 court decisions without appeal towards them; recognizing First Nations governments as true governments and giving them a voice in parliament; emphasizing treaty relationships; protecting the rights of Indigenous women and children. These are all familiar things, we are hearing them again and again. The Accord was a clear message that the federal government was no longer ignoring the substandard living conditions nor the systemic disadvantages and inequality faced by Indigenous peoples, brought about by generations of cultural genocide, the criminalization of their livelihoods. Which is why Donald Marshall was fishing eels and got charged (it is a livelihood), and the discriminatory legislation and assimilation policies that have plagued this country for generations.

So let’s ask ourselves, what if the Kelowna Accord had been implemented? Would the housing and water crisis affecting hundreds, hundreds of communities been corrected or averted? Would there be more Indigenous peoples attending universities, graduating and joining the labour market? Would there be fewer Indigenous peoples in jail? Fewer children in care? Fewer suicides? Would there be healthy and sustainable partnerships between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian government? Would we see a move away from litigation as a rights protection strategy because relationships with the Crown were respectful and honourable? The year 2016 would have marked the 10 year anniversary of the Kelowna Accord had it had been implemented, had it not been abandoned by the Conservative government in 2007. An investigation by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards estimates that the cumulative benefit of investing in Aboriginal education and social well-being would be approximately $111 billion dollars over the course of 20 years. We would be half way there right now. Instead we had a decade of policy stagnation, imposition without adequate consultation, and in some communities, social and economic decay. Prime Minister Martin understood the social investments in Aboriginal children are not only a moral but a fiscal responsibility. Mr. Delorey, please take note. He also understood the imperative value of consultation and consent in forging just relations between Indigenous peoples and settler society. 2016 is also the 20th anniversary of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and its 440 recommendations for systemic change. Now ask yourself: when was the last time you engaged in RCAP recommendations?

The current federal government has clearly stated in its mandate letters to its ministers that no relationship is more important to Canada than the ones with Indigenous peoples. It is time for a renewed nation to nation relationship based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. And after intensive knowledge-gathering, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action released last year, in their responses to the legacy of Indian residential schools, are framed within these cross-cutting categories that are very similar to Kelowna: child welfare, education, language and culture, health and justice. The federal government has vowed to take immediate action on all 94 and as such, the Canadian government has also - without qualification now - accepted the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous Peoples. It is hoped that meaningful implementation of the UN declaration will breathe life into those Section 35 constitutional protections of treaty rights. Paq’tnkek will not have to wait and wait and wait. It will adjust the gaping holes in substantive Indigenous rights recognition and in their unrestricted exercise. Situated in the Kelowna Accord, the Truth and Reconciliation calls to act on the United Nations' declarations are the principles that are necessary for the relationships between Indigenous peoples and settler society to be refreshed and redefined. And this requires the creation of proper consultation and consent processes and the replacement or the elimination of legislation and policies that perpetuates systemic discrimination at every level, in every sector.

You cannot expect to achieve real and fundamental change at the community level if the community is mired in poverty, and Mr. Paul Martin recognized this. The Kelowna response in its first 5 years was to focus on improving the housing, the water, the health, the education and infrastructure and once that level was met, where there was capacity and health happening, then you negotiate the broader access, the broader structural changes to Aboriginal and Crown relationships. I applaud the work of the Martin Family Initiative in carrying forward this vision that was laid out in the successful consultation and negotiations with Indigenous peoples across this country and pragmatically delivering programs that are culturally orientated to sustainable and prosperous futures. For raising the visibility because the problem of invisibility is one that still plagues this country. Of these critical circumstances which we all have an obligation and an ability to address. We have people here who believe that the treaties are ancient documents, nothing beyond a symbolic value today. We have people here who think that acknowledging traditional territory of the Mi'kmaw Nation is a futile nod to some oblique history. We have people throughout the province who argue that because Indigenous peoples only make up 3.7% of the population, that their demands for treaty entitlements and protection under Section 35 of the Constitution far outweigh their electoral value, and thus they are dismissed or ignored or excluded from the decision-making bodies that create the programs and policies and infrastructures that profoundly affect their daily lives. The Martin Family Initiative has a number of dynamic programs. The Canadians for a New Partnership declaration includes the resolve to build a new partnership between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginals of this country; a partnership based on the principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and equality; one that will build by restoring trust and respecting Aboriginal and treaty rights. Please get involved. Participate in treaty education. Be a mentor. Create jobs. Build trust.

Thank you.


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