Ottawa must follow two separate tracks in its reconciliation efforts with indigenous people, says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: taking broader, long-term steps to rebuild the relationship, while also addressing urgent short-term needs.
Trudeau was addressing the former track at a news conference Thursday when the latter one tragically intervened: a house fire on a southern Ontario First Nation that’s believed to have killed five members of the same family.
“Obviously, our thoughts and hearts go out to families affected by this most recent incident,” said Trudeau, flanked by the indigenous leaders with whom he’d spent the morning meeting.
“We’ve taken significant measures, concretely, to build solutions and partnerships with indigenous communities, but we know that it is not just about immediate Band-Aids and immediate quick fixes.”
The relationship between the federal government and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada has to be “renewed and rebuilt,” Trudeau continued – a process that is not going to be complete any time soon.
“The challenges we are facing will take not just years, but decades in many cases to fully reverse, fully establish the right kind of relationship moving forward.”
Trudeau’s remarks came well before officials on the Oneida Nation of the Thames, located 25 kilometres southwest of London, Ont., confirmed that five people died in the blaze, which began Wednesday night.
“First Nations housing is in a crisis,” said Oneida Chief Randall Phillips, who described the house as “just basically kindling.”
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“We will continue to point to the federal government and provincial government to make sure that they uphold their responsibility to make sure that we have safe homes here. But this is a perfect example of us not being able to refurbish or fix houses that are in need of repair.”
Trudeau said the federal government set aside $8.4 billion in the March budget to address “urgent needs,” including lifting boil-water advisories across the country, “with more to come in the coming months and years.”
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But his main purpose Thursday was to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by putting down a marker on the government’s effort to reset its relationship with indigenous peoples.
Cabinet ministers will meet at least twice a year with First Nation, Metis and Inuit leaders to tackle shared priorities, while the government sets up an interim board of directors as a precursor to a National Council for Reconciliation.
The government is also providing $10 million to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
The commission, led by Murray Sinclair, Manitoba’s first indigenous judge, issued 94 sweeping recommendations after spending six years examining the legacy of Canada’s residential school system.
The commission arose from the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, reached after survivors took the federal government and churches to court with the support of the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit organizations.
Progress is underway on 41 of the 45 recommendations that are under federal or shared jurisdiction, Trudeau said Thursday.
Hearings are expected to begin next spring in the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls – one of the recommendations enacted by the Liberal government.