In theory, in the eyes of the courts, Canada has had a “nation-to-nation” obligation to its indigenous peoples for decades.
In practice, that hasn’t always been the case.
On Tuesday morning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered some more details about how he plans to do that.
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Trudeau spoke at the beginning of an annual three-day gathering organized by the Assembly of First Nations.
“It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations Peoples – one that understands that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation,” he said.
How will he do that?
Trudeau’s speech Tuesday was light on specifics. But here are four priorities he outlined Tuesday:
National inquiry into MMIW
Trudeau reiterated Tuesday his government will study Canada’s crisis of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
“We have made this inquiry a priority for our government because those touched by this national tragedy have waited long enough,” Trudeau said. “The victims deserve justice, their families an opportunity to heal and to be heard. We must work together to put an end to this ongoing tragedy.”
Calls for a national inquiry into the issue have been growing since a 2014 RCMP review found that roughly 1,200 indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing since 1980, of those 164 are still missing and 1,017 homicide are confirmed victims.
On Wednesday afternoon, Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced the first phase of the inquiry that includes consultations with victims families about how the inquiry should proceed and what needs to be accomplished.
First Nations education
The Liberal government’s second priority will be increased investments in First Nations education, which has been systemically underfunded.
“We can’t afford to wait and we won’t,” Trudeau said. “Every child and young person living in Canada deserves a real and fair chance at success, First Nations students are no less deserving.”
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The prime minister also said education reforms will be led by First Nations communities.
Removing the cap on First Nations funding
The federal government announced as part of its first budget it will eliminate a two per cent cap on annual funding increases for First Nations programs that has been in place for almost two decades.
The cap on funding for education, health care and other programs has been criticized for not keeping pace with inflation. The Assembly of First Nations had been asking for its removal for years.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Trudeau reiterated his pledge to “fully implement the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
The report, released in June, made 94 recommendations, including changes in policies and programs. The commission’s chair Justice Murray Sinclair called Canada’s treatment of aboriginal children a “cultural genocide.” He’ll present his final report on Dec. 15.
Providing clean drinking water
Trudeau pledged to end boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves, providing access to potable water within the next four years.
A recent report from the Council of Canadians released in November found that of 294 drinking water advisories effect, 24 are in First Nations communities.
A investigation by 16×9 of Ontario’s Shoal Lake First Nation profiled a community without road access or clean water, and which has been under a boil water advisory for almost two decades.