Romeo Saganash’s use of unparliamentary language in the House of Commons in 2018 made international headlines.
At the time, tensions were high over the discussion about the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline.
Saganash rose in the house and said Justin Trudeau “doesn’t give a f**k” about the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
For the then NDP member of Parliament, there was a whole host of Liberal party platform promises that not being acted upon.
“At that moment, I felt exasperated by their attitude, saying one thing but doing the opposite. Not delivering on their promises and they’re important promises that still remain unachieved today,” says Saganash on the latest episode of Face to Face.
“Clean drinking water, for instance, housing is another one, the high cost of living in the north. There’s a lot of issues that still need to be addressed in this country. But at that point, I was so exasperated by watching them say one thing and do another thing. I just said to my team when they told me I had a question that day and I said well I don’t think I’ll ask a question, I’ll just tell him what I think today,” says Saganash.
Reflecting back on the speech, Saganash says he’s glad he said it and he believes many people agreed with him.
Saganash says he still thinks Trudeau doesn’t care about Indigenous rights.
“What we are seeing is a continuation of what he has been doing for the last six years, nothing has really changed in that regard,” says Saganash.
Saganash points to Bill C-15 as an example of the prime minister saying one thing and doing another.
C-15 is legislation that would see the government of Canada “take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”
The Bill received first reading in early December of 2020, but Saganash says introducing the Bill at the “11th hour could save them if there’s a spring election from not going forward with it,” says Saganash.
UNDRIP legislation was brought forward by Saganash as private members Bill in 2013 but it’s something he has been working on for nearly 30 years.
In 1984, Saganash was invited to attend the United Nations by then Cree ambassador to the UN, Ted Moses.
The former MP for the Quebec riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou says he isn’t surprised by the Conservative Party’s opposition to Bill C-15 but he feels some of the resistance to the legislation from grassroots Indigenous people is unfounded.
Saganash says he has a problem with people reading more into the Bill that what is actually included in the legislation. But he does admit governments will continue to act against Indigenous rights, especially in the courts, even if C-15 is passed.
Still, Saganash is concerned the Bill will once again die in the house as he anticipates a spring federal election.
Nomination meetings are currently taking place across the country but you won’t see Saganash’s name on any ballot.
After nearly nine years as an MP, he stepped aside from politics in 2019 and has no intentions of running again.
“We definitely have a place in the House of Commons. We definitely have a role to play. Although it seems impossible at times, we do manage to bring about change in that colonial place and I think its important that we have more and more people participating in that process,” says Saganash.
An example of the change that can happen came shortly after Saganash was first elected in 2011.
He asked if he could ask his questions and give his speeches in the House of Commons in Cree. He was told there are only two official languages in the House, English and French, a response Saganash refused to accept.
“I kept working on that issue and today any Indigenous person wishing to speak their language during a speech or during question period, can do so without fighting for that right. That’s a big advancement for Indigenous languages, that we can speak our languages in a place like the House of Commons. There are a lot of things that need changes in that place so, I’ll leave it up to others now to achieve those.
“But, it’s an excellent platform for any Indigenous person who knows how to use the platform,” says Saganash.