Brett Forester and Jamie Pashagumskum
The Trudeau government affirms its commitment to end boil water advisories, compensate children, renew nation-to-nation relationships, and much more in mandate letters issued today to his cabinet ministers.
The prime minister stresses, as he did in 2015, the importance of issues affecting Indigenous Peoples.
A preamble, identical in all letters, mentions “moving forward on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples” in the first paragraph – right alongside key platform promises like making life affordable, strengthening healthcare, and protecting the environment.
“There remains no more important relationship to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. We made significant progress in our last mandate on supporting self-determination, improving service delivery and advancing reconciliation. I am directing every single Minister to determine what they can do in their specific portfolio to accelerate and build on the progress we have made with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.”
The letters, released while the House of Commons sat for the last time in 2019, outline how the Liberals expect to deliver on issues impacting First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in Canada.
Services and relations: the key ministers
Trudeau refers to a “distinctions-based approach” to Indigenous policy six times in his letters to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller.
The letters don’t define the approach.
But in 2018 the government released a list of principles governing its relationship with Indigenous Peoples that does.
The tenth principle says that a “distinctions-based approach is needed to ensure that the unique rights, interests and circumstances of the First Nations, the Métis Nation and Inuit are acknowledged, affirmed, and implemented.”
Miller’s priorities include eliminating all on-reserve long-term boil water advisories by 2021, implementing Jordan’s Principle, and compensating First Nations people harmed as children by discriminatory underfunding of on-reserve child and family services.
The letter further instructs Miller to implement Bill C-92, establish improved financial relationships, and develop infrastructure and renewable energy projects in Indigenous communities.
Bennett will develop nation-to-nation relationships, co-develop legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, follow through on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, and act on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ calls for justice.
Trudeau also wants Bennett to work with Indigenous communities in redesigning claims and inherent rights policies, establish benefit-sharing for natural resource development on Indigenous territories, and put Inuit land claims agreements into action.
Directions to other ministers
Dan Vandal, minister of Northern Affairs and Trudeau’s lone Indigenous cabinet minister, has been directed to work with Bennett to implement Inuit land claims and develop the Inuit Nunangat self-determination policy.
Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is charged with promoting Indigenous languages and repatriating cultural artifacts.
The letters leave some issues out, however.
Trudeau’s letter to Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson mentions teaching kids to camp, and planting trees.
It doesn’t mention the Trans Mountain pipeline, duty to consult, or other issues likely to come across the minister’s desk – such as building a proposed nuclear waste burial site near the Saugeen First Nation on Lake Huron.
David Lametti, who replaced Jody Wilson-Raybould as minister of justice and attorney general earlier this year, has been asked to assist Bennett with UNDRIP, the TRC, and the MMIWG Inquiry’s calls for justice.
In his 2015 letter to Wilson-Raybould, Trudeau asked her to “address gaps in services to Aboriginal people and those with mental illness throughout the criminal justice system.”
That directive appears nowhere in Lametti’s letter. Nor does Trudeau ask Lametti to address the over-representation of Indigenous people in Canada’s prison system.