Indian Act bands will give way to traditional governance, Justice Minister tells AFN

REGINA-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould  told the Assembly of First Nations annual General Assembly it is time to do away with Indian Act bands and open the door to more traditional governance .

In a speech before the annual general assembly Tuesday  she said First Nations need to prepare now  for a future set into motion by the Justin Trudeau government that  permanently alters the indigenous  relationship with Canada. She spoke of a future where Indigenous communities are no longer, instead Indigneous peoples are group by nations.

“Who are the rights-holding people being recognize, and what will you establish as your political and governing institutions? If not the colonial imposed institutions for administration of Indians living on reserves under the Indian Act, then what?” said Wilson-Raybould.

She said Canada is changing its relationship with Indigenous communities.  “In considering our government’s commitment to a distinctions based approach to recognition, how will your nation and Indigenous government be organized? What is your territory? Is it shared with another nation and to what extent?”

Wilson-Raybould said she  has begun to alter Ottawa’s internal bureaucracy which is the basis of the 10 principles unveiled Friday that will now govern Canada’s side of its relationship with Indigenous peoples.

“They are explicit in rejecting certain long-standing federal positions—such as the focus on extinguishment, surrender or denial of rights,” said Wilson-Raybould. “They are a start, as the government needed to tell itself, internally, how to act. In this sense, the principles, chiefs, are not really directed at you, but rather for federal officials and the bureaucracy, to begin shifting decades-old patterns of internal behaviour to a new reality. They will evolve over time as need be.”

She said Ottawa  is  reviewing all its laws and policies to ensure they comply with Section 35 of the Constitution and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, She said work is underway to create a new legislative framework to implement the UNDRIP.

She told them it is time to seize the moment.

“Some of you may not believe this is really happening. To those of you who think this way, I can tell you, under the leadership of our prime minister and from my seat, it is happening,” said Wilson-Raybould. “I also know that the potential of this moment will only be realized if you help advance it, fight for it, and are deeply involved in driving the change.”

She said First Nations  can thrive within  Canada.

“I am aware there are some who say they do not recognize Canada as a state, so how can our rights be recognized by it? As a proud Kwakwaka’wakw woman and also a proud Canadian, to these people I say this, while I understand your position, please do not underestimate the power of section 35 and UNDRIP,” said Wilson-Raybould. “There are many ways to be Canadian respecting different legal traditions. I believe it is within a strong and caring Canada that we as Indigenous peoples can build a future where our traditions, cultures, identities and ways of life thrive. And that the state has a role to play in supporting this objective, including through changing laws and policies and working in partnership based on recognition.”

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett  brought the same message about the coming change.

“How many of you will still be under the Indian Act in 10 years?” said Bennett. She said Ottawa wants to build Indigenous institutions, not continue creating programs. “We want to partner with you on building on the strengths and assets you have in your communities,” said Bennett, in a speech to the AFN. “You have the power to determine the future of your communities.”

Bennett and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde announced  a finance structure change Tuesday that will no longer see the  Indigenous Affairs department claw back Infrastructure funds at the end of the fiscal year beginning in 2018.

The change  is expected to relieve  pressure on bands who  often rush to push construction projects to avoid losing funds. Bennett said the policy change  will eventually apply to all funding provided to bands through contribution agreements that outline funding from Ottawa  each fiscal year.

She said the department is also committed to working with the AFN to change the own-source revenue requirement for operations and maintenance. The requirement often prevents band’s ability to fund emergency response and water treatment facilities.

Bellegarde  encouraged  the chiefs in assembly to make noise about the need  for language legislation. He said  he expects the Trudeau government to pass legislation protecting and promoting Indigenous languages as the original languages, before the next federal election. He said legislation will give Indigenous languages special status and create statutory funding to revitalize and preserve the about 58 distinct Indigenous languages that exist within the boundaries of Canada. The legislation will protect language funding from political changes, he said.

“In some ways, we are on the right path,” said Bellegarde, in his opening address to chiefs.

Bellegarde said examples of this “right path” include an agreement he signed with Trudeau last month that guarantees the leadership of the AFN will have permanent access to the federal levels of power along with the ongoing review of federal laws and policies.

“These meetings will be used to identify key issues and find solutions so we can break through the barriers facing our people,” he said. “Canada’s laws, written over decades to deny us those rights, must be rewritten….Our people will write the laws that govern our own nations and we must help Canada to revise those laws, policies and procedures that conflict with (UNDRIP).”

Also speaking at the assembly were Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna , Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodalespoke and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

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