Transcription prepared by Media Q Inc. exclusively for INAC,  May 1, 2018 9:45 a.m. ET, Hilton Lac-Leamy, 3 Casino Boulevard, GATINEAU, QC

Moderator: Thank you very much, National Chief. If we had more time I would speak to the youthfulness issue. Perhaps before lunch we’ll come back to that. I’m honoured to be able to introduce Dr. Carolyn Bennett who has been elected to the federal House of Commons for the last 20 years and is well known to all of us given her work as – in the previous Liberal government as the Canada’s only Minister of State for Public Health. And during the tenure of the previous Conservative government she served as the opposition critic for many years, and in her – in the current government she has the responsibility as the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. So with that, please help me welcome to the podium Dr. Carolyn Bennett – the Honourable Carolyn Bennett.

Hon. C. Bennett: Thanks. Howard is getting younger every day. It’s good. Greetings. Bonjour (indigenous language – no translation) and thank you both Racelle and Harold for the leadership and we really do honour the elders that were here this morning but also of course the drum and the Eagle River singers. We thank Chief Whiteduck for welcoming us to the unceded territory of the Algonquin people, but I think all of us are amazed and inspired by – by writer and quill speaking their own language and – and really inspiring us to the future of what it should be like when – when we have proud indigenous children and youth proud to speak their language and proud and comfortable in their – in their culture and competent on the land and the water and the ice.

I also acknowledge the loss in Norway House in how heartfelt it is that – that this happens and – and also acknowledge the presence of the Bushi (ph) family who are also here to remind us of the very significant need for change. It is – it is un grand plaisir d’être ici avec mon collègue Mélanie Joly and also with Elizabeth May and my colleague Kathy McCloud (ph) but also with senators McCallum and Pate. We thank you for all of your work.

It is a – I think it’s an exciting time. Most of you have been part of the over 68, rights recognition and implementation framework discussions and gatherings. So I do want to be able to take some questions and we do know and acknowledge that you need some straight answers that will be very important as you take this conversation back to your communities.

However, Tuesday mornings are Cabinet meetings and so we apologize as ministers that we will have to leave in time to get back and answer questions on our files. So, as was mentioned since the Prime Minister’s speech of February 14th, we’ve been on the road engaging with indigenous communities and rights holders from coast-to-coast-to-coast to create the recognition and implementation of rights framework, self-governing nations, treaty groups, elected leadership, traditional leadership, youth and women and elders, your citizens who live in community and your citizens who now live in urban centres.

So, we feel that’s it’s in our – an important opportunity for me to hand in my homework. I’ll let you know a little bit of what I’ve been hearing, but yesterday I think Chief Sky-Deer said very clearly when she reminded us of the Two Row Wampum and said you need to get out of our affairs. So that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to work with you to disentangle from the colonial practices, The Indian Act but also all the other paternalistic policies and practices. We want to imagine what our relationship with First Nations would have been without The Indian Act. Imagine what would Canada would have looked like if these conversations had taken place amongst our ancestors a hundred and fifty years ago.

We want to imagine what it would have looked like if after The Constitution Act of 1982 the work describing section 35 rights, and affirming them had been done with the same intensity as was done to ensure all laws and policies and practices of Canada were compliant with the Charter in sections 1 to 34. We are doing that work now on section 35. We are affirming and implementing those sections 35 rights, 35 plus years late.

So I think I need to start by clarifying what we are not doing and – and then we want to talk a little bit about what we want to achieve and then a little bit of what we’ve learned so far in the process. So firstly, I want to confirm that – that what we hear coast-to-coast-to-coast is this is tough because of all of the challenges that your communities are still facing. It’s been very important to us that you’ve taken the time to come, to share with us your concerns but we’re grateful to every one of you that has for your candor and your willingness to recognize this is an open door to an amazing opportunity to fundamentally transform the relationship with Canada.

As it says in the mandate letter of all the ministers, a relationship based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. So the real challenges in your communities I know make it hard for you to take the time away and then to explain your absence to your communities. So I want you to please thank them for sharing you with us as we embark on this journey of next 150.

It’s important for you to hear directly from me, despite what you may be hearing elsewhere. The framework has not yet been written. Let me repeat, the framework has not yet been written. We are committed to co-develop this framework and walk the talk of nothing about us without us.

Secondly, we know that the process isn’t perfect and we welcome any advice. We want your communities to know that and we want to continue to improve how we engage. The era of Ottawa determining how and when and where your rights are implemented is over and you need to hear from me directly nothing, nothing will be imposed. Rebuilding nations, moving to self-determination is an opt-in process. At the beginning, we decided against putting out a discussion paper which risks giving people the impression everything had already been decided.

There was no green paper or white paper. In fact, we’re still working hard to prove that we are in no way on any white paper path. We are determined to work with you on a path to vibrant, proud indigenous nations that are in charge of their lives and their land. This is the opposite of assimilation. We chose to just put forward some questions that would begin conversations. Many of you have suggested better questions.

One of the questions was removed. I think it said something along the lines what’s the biggest barrier to self-determination? And Regional Chief TG (ph) answered with one word, “you”. So, we get that, Regional Chief and indeed that’s what we’re trying to say. We’re trying to get out of the way and I guess you have heard me say before as a physician I know when not to prescribe. So, there’s no prescription in the terms of the outcome, the process or the timeframe. We need to get this right.

Thirdly, the federal government’s goal is straightforward: to do everything we can to ensure indigenous people are in charge of their lives and their land. Our starting position is that indigenous rights exist and that those rights shouldn’t have to be claimed and then proven in court. It means getting to a table. It means that we are talking about title. It means we are working very hard to stay out of court. For that, we need to be working towards dispute and accountability mechanisms that are trusted by all parties.

We have laws in our federal government. You have your laws and more and more of you are working to put in place traditional legal practices and customs. We want to get back to what was envisioned with the Two Row Wampum. We need to ensure that the laws of Canada confirm with your section 35 rights.

We are not relegating First Nations to the status of municipalities. Municipalities don’t have their own distinct language and culture. Municipalities don’t have inherent treaty rights, the brigade (ph) Confederation, rights that are enshrined in the Constitution. Indigenous people have inherent and treaty rights. What is needed is a partner who respects that and will work to ensure that future governments are bound by laws to honour these rights.

We recognize that the comprehensive claims and inherent rights policies are flawed. These policies have chartered our course for over 30 years down a path that led to notions like cease, release and surrender to top-down approaches, to the Crown-Indigenous relationship and to repeated rights-related litigation as the National Chief outlines.

Years, even decades spent at the negotiating tables, then massive loans to pay off afterwards for having successfully negotiated and implementing your own rights. So the Prime Minister says better is always possible and we all know that the status quo is not okay. We want to redesign federal laws and develop new measures to support the rebuilding of Indigenous nations and governments. No longer will you have to give up your rights to reach a negotiated agreement. Extinguishment is now off the table.

Agreements are about relationships and allowing those relationships to evolve over time. So the idea of full and final settlement is also off the table. The principal of periodic review is being well received. We need to move self-determination beyond a relationship that is imposed. You need to be able to choose governments of your own making. This is the key in undoing the damage of The Indian Act.

Il faut faire de la place aux femmes, aux jeunes et aux aînés, faire de la place dans les lois du Canada, aux lois et pratiques traditionnelles, aux façons traditionnelles de prendre des décisions.

These things are at the heart of your work. This is real self-determination. I have heard that many of you would like to hear more from those communities further along the path to self-determination. What worked? What didn’t work? What are some of the best practices? It is – many have said that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission must be the foundation or renewed relationship and new approaches to rights, including this framework.

The framework should not seek to define rights universally, rather to remove barriers to the implementation of rights. As article 3 of the – my rather tattered version of the UN Declaration says: “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” And the framework must also address rights and titles. Nation rebuilding is a priority across the country. It’s a process that can only be led by Indigenous people and it’s clear that nations reconstituted will be much better able to participate in free, prior and informed consent and execute on article 19.

Also protecting and advancing languages and culture is also why the important and very clear in the UN Declaration, especially as the foundation element of strengthening Indigenous communities and of reconstituting nations. As collectivities come back together on their own terms, the federal government must recognize and enable the inherent right of self-government. We have also heard that advancing treaty rights is just as important as rights recognition.

Treaty holders want mechanisms to facilitate moving out from under The Indian Act towards self-government, including enhanced recognition of the inherent right of self-government. They have also called for the recognition and implementation of their treaty rights. For treaty holders both pre-1975 and modern, your treaties are your framework. The recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights framework will not nullify your rights.

Moving forward, our focus will be on implementing those rights. We need to explore new understandings of treaties that make room for treaty evolution and innovative certainty techniques. We must develop more manageable stepping-stone approaches to concluding agreements. Many groups currently negotiating with Canada have entered into side discussions to advance priority issues such as the fisheries, economic development, language and housing.

Other communities see what Dr. Philpott and the National Chief describe as the humanitarian crisis of Child and Family Services as a reason to get to the table and assert jurisdiction over their children and prevent their children being taken from their communities. Article 7 of the UN Declaration includes that children forcibly removing – children of the group to another group. That is clear. We have to stop doing it.

Some groups are using discussions and negotiation processes as a response or alternative to litigation, including the development about a court settlement at the table. We need to support these more collaborative approaches. There are now over 60 tables representing over half or 320 Indian Act bands at table discussions. They’re priorities on the path to self-determination. These discussions start with a blank piece of paper as you will hear from Joe Wild (ph), not a predetermined mandate already determined by Cabinet.

So building on land claims, comprehensive community plans, more choosing First Nations Land Management Act, the momentum is amazing. The new education systems in Ottawa, Ontario and in Manitoba, hereditary leadership at the table at Hidaqway (ph) and Ktunaxa in Akwesasne, and happily Budget 2018 gave us the dollars to fund these conversations on Nation rebuilding and the path to self-determination.

Indigenous peoples must have a say in activities that impact their territories and rights, but nations sometimes don’t agree with Canada, the provinces and territories and with each other. So we are hearing the importance of creating new dispute resolution mechanisms that will be trusted and again eliminate the expensive and time consuming court processes. We’ve also heard loud and clear that the engagement period is too short, but others who have said it’s all there in volume 2 of our CAP (ph) get on with it. They want to make sure that the rights described in section 35 are a full box of rights. They want the principles of the UN Declaration implemented and in place before the next election.

There are – there still a lot of work to do. We need to address the fundamental issues such as the deep relationship between rights and title, and the management of lands and resources. Laws need to describe the producery (ph) responsibility of the Crown and the recognition and implementation of rights.

We need your support in getting this right, to make the framework as good as it can be. You will have time to talk to your communities and to your elders what should be and what shouldn’t be in legislation that will directly impact the quality of life of your peoples, your rights and your futures.

We have a tremendous and exciting opportunity before us. This is about building the Canada of tomorrow. It’s about making things better for your communities. It’s about nation building. Many have said that our CAP was able to sit on the shelf because Canadians had not been included and didn’t understand it. I think that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has done an important job in educating Canadians about the many failed and tragic government policies, residential schools but also the horrible consequences of The Indian Act.

Canadians are now more aware of the Sixties Scoop and the root causes of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, child abuse, removing children from their communities, sexism and racism in policing. More and more organizations, communities and individuals – individual Canadians are becoming intentional in their commitment to help on the journey of reconciliation. The book clubs with Indigenous authors and all of the – the blanket exercise, there are many, many Canadians now wanting to help and to make new friends as First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

These allies will be truly important in the imperative of addressing racism. Last week, Dr. Philpott and I and Minister Petitpas Taylor had dinner with Monique Bégin, the mother of Medicare. She reminded us of the Medicare story. At the time, all the provinces were against. The doctors were against. But the people were in favour and therefore they pressed on. It is meant that no federal has ever tried to thinker with The Canada Health Act. And the provinces and territories have respected it and the dispute resolution mechanism that was set up in the Act. It is, I believe, that this is the moment in which we can embed the recognition implementation of Indigenous rights into the identity of all Canadians, something that they can all feel part of and proud of.

It felt good at the UN last month as we built upon the important truth telling of the Prime Minister at the general assembly last September as we humbly begin our journey of reconciliation. We need your help. We are committed to support the work that you need to do rebuilding your nations. We are ready to work with each of you on the priorities and the path that your communities will choose to be better – to be better able to end the paternalism, assert jurisdiction and form governments better able to provide safe communities and a better quality of life for your people.

We are taking Chief Sky-Deer’s advice to heart that you need to get out of our affairs. We want that too. We know you can do a way better job. We know that as nations because self-determining their health, education and economic outcomes improve. I am confident that we can work together to co-develop a framework that will ensure the recognition and implementation of your rights so that the next 150 years we’ll be able to achieve the promise of your people and of all of Canada.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

Moderator: Merci infiniment notre ministre Bennett.

I'd just like to indicate that all Members of Parliament who are attending have been asked that they will be, to take questions. (sic) And what we are planning on doing – and I've noted that there's two people who are already presenting to the microphone, I have noted those names. Given time, what we're going to do is we're going to go directly to Minister Joly, and then we'll take first those questions from the Chiefs Committee on Languages that have been prepared, that National Chief spoke about, and then we'll take questions for Minister Bennett.


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