By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A federal government move to establish a national council on reconciliation has drawn criticism from the national Congress for Aboriginal People. The congress said the omission of CAP from such a council is “deeply disturbing,” given the high number of Indigenous people in Canada who currently don’t reside in a First Nations community.
CAP’s president, who works on behalf of Indigenous people living off reserve, said excluding CAP will have an odious effect on the government’s reconciliation efforts and will not properly reflect the thoughts, hopes and dreams of Indigenous people residing in urban areas of Canada.
“Reconciliation must include all Indigenous Peoples across Canada regardless of where they live,” said CAP National Chief Elmer St. Pierre. “The majority of Indigenous people now live off-reserve and in urban areas. Their voices play a critical role in understanding the numerous challenges Indigenous people face on a daily basis. Denying CAP and its constituents a place on this essential council would be a tremendous loss in the efforts towards reconciliation.”
Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Marc Miller introduced Bill C-29 in Parliament last Thursday.
Bill C-29 looks to address the 94 calls to action released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. In its current form, the legislation would create a council comprised of several directors but only three positions for National Indigenous Organizations. In doing so, the proposed bill would discriminate against hundreds of thousands of Indigenous peoples living in urban areas.
“The federal government must include all Indigenous peoples when creating legislation and engaging on vital issues,” says St. Pierre. “The exclusion of any Indigenous voices is a step in the wrong direction.”
As envisioned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an Indigenous-led, independent and permanent National Council for Reconciliation would strive to ensure that long-term progress on reconciliation in Canada is supported and sustained through commitment to reconciliation and accountability.
The council would monitor, evaluate and report on reconciliation efforts, including the implementation of the Calls to Action, as well as be a catalyst for innovative thought, dialogue and action, a government statement said.
“Our government is committed to implementing the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Miller said. “This legislation is incredibly important. We will continue working with the Transitional Committee and partners to take a collaborative approach that leads to concrete actions that advance reconciliation.”
The council would also engage with Canadians to create a better understanding of reconciliation, and find common ground to build a better, stronger future for everyone. If the Bill passes, the next steps will be the establishment of the Council’s first Board of Directors, who will take steps to set up the Council as a not-for-profit organization.
CAP, however, would be excluded from the board of directors, which has prompted the group CAP to demand the federal government rework bill C-29 to include the majority of Indigenous peoples now living off-reserve and in urban areas. Over 80 percent of Indigenous people in Canada reside outside of First Nations communities.
Marc Lalonde is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the IORI:WASE. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.