Indigenous leaders from across Canada met with the country’s premiers on Monday to discuss a range of reconciliation priorities at an annual meeting near Victoria.
Métis National Council president Cassidy Caron said the dialogue was “extremely valuable,” encompassing topics such as the Indian Act, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, land claims, child welfare, and unmarked burial sites at former residential school sites.
“We spent the morning getting to know one another, getting to build the relationships,” she told reporters after the meeting.
“There are solutions we can all develop together through talking about our challenges, talking about best practices — what’s working and what’s not working in each of our jurisdictions.”
The meeting — the first of its kind to be held on reserve land in Canada — was hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. Representatives from the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples also attended.
Lisa Webber of NWAC urged the premiers to make a “continued commitment” to including Indigenous peoples at decision-making tables, particularly as they discuss a nationwide crisis in health care.
“If there’s a problem with the conventional model, how about looking at revamping that model — completely turning it on its head — and saying let’s include Indigenous people in those solutions?” said Webber.
Several Calls for Justice in the 2019 National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, she added, deal with the health and wellness of Indigenous peoples.
British Columbia Premier John Horgan said it’s “high time” the federal and provincial governments work with Indigenous peoples to heal intergenerational trauma and turn a “black page” in Canada’s history books.
In B.C., he said work is underway to implement the 89-point action plan for bringing the province into compliance with its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. Meanwhile, Indigenous child welfare reform is taking place nationwide.
“There’s a move towards children being kept in community, being kept in their cultures so that the trauma of family disruption and disunity does not also lead to a loss of culture, a loss of person, a loss of who you are and where you fit in the cosmos,” he said.
Horgan also touted the value of having candid, face-to-face meetings with Indigenous leaders.
The meeting comes a little more than a week before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Canada on a reconciliation pilgrimage. He is expected to offer an in-person apology for the role of Catholic priests and nuns in Canada’s harrowing residential school system.
The first ministers’ meeting is slated to continue Tuesday, with health-care as a major focus.