Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day says First Nations should have been consulted on Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent cabinet shuffle, which included the splitting of the Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
“Any transition or transformation of government policy or how the government does business with us will need to include us, and we will need to be engaged,” Day said. “We will need to be provided the information that we need.”
Carolyn Bennett, who will take the reins at Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, is tasked with settling outstanding comprehensive land claims, clearing a backlog of grievances at the Specific Claims Tribunal Canada and generally fostering a new era of self-governance.
Jane Philpott will lead Indigenous Services, a department that will oversee programs for status Indians, including welfare, education, child and family services, housing, long-term water advisories and, eventually, the provision of health care.
Sceptical, but positive
Although Day says there remains scepticism about the changes, he’s looking forward to working with the new departments.
“Both [ministers] are doctors, and have impassioned ways of working with First Nations communities,” Day said. “I’ve known both of them since the Liberals formed government and both have put forward solid efforts.”
The expectations of the First Nation communities have only heightened since the Liberal government formed, so there’s a lot of work ahead, Day said.
“The federal government recently released 10 principles. Those principles are aimed at the bureaucracy, and they’re simply saying that there is commitment to a nation-to-nation relationship that the Liberals had made to First Nations in Canada,” he said.
Political capital needed
Day suggested that the government is going to have to invest more resources in this relationship, but they’re also going to have to invest more political capital on particular issues.
“It has a lot to do with consultation, engagement, recognition of rights, and jurisdiction,” he said. “The federal government is going to have to do a lot more than splitting a ministry to address these issues.”
Overall, Day hopes the government moves help set the country on a path towards reconciliation.
“I hope this is the beginning of dismantling the Indian Act,” Day said. “This process will have to include First Nations participation, our engagement and our endorsement as to how the federal government moves on these major shifts.”