Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu readily acknowledges the Indian Act is much hated by many — it is, after all, one of the most racist laws on earth.
But the Liberals have no plans to axe the old draconian statute any time soon. Instead, they want First Nations to gradually transition away from it by co-developing new laws or negotiating governance agreements.
“Passing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was a very important step toward eliminating the Indian Act. But the Indian act, as some Indigenous leaders will tell you, has components in it that protect rights,” said Hajdu on Nation to Nation.
“As much as the Indian Act is despised, until those rights are protected in a different vehicle then I think some leaders feel that it would be risky to actually eliminate the Indian Act.”
With parliamentarians preparing for a new session to start on Jan. 31, dealing with the Indian Act is just one of many issues atop the agenda for the Thunder Bay MP and former minister of health.
Hajdu told N2N she’s focused on implementing the Liberals’ Indigenous child-welfare law while also consulting leaders about proposed Indigenous health legislation, though there’s no timeline for when a bill might reach the House of Commons.
“We’ll work with leaders to make sure that we’re not in any way imposing an agenda or a timeline,” she said while noting “that no government is installed forever, and that there’s an urgency to doing this work because there’s a willing government partner.”
It’s certainly true Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won’t govern forever, but they are approaching seven years in power with three straight federal electoral victories behind them.
Lori Idlout, who won Nunavut’s only seat in the House in 2021, says some constituents told her they were on housing wait lists when they first voted for Trudeau in 2015.
“All these years later, they’re still on a waiting list,” said Idlout. “They’re still waiting to have a home.”
Idlout is already known for asking her first question in question period in Inuktitut. She’s also been pressing Infrastructure Minister Dominic LeBlanc to do something immediately about the water crisis in Iqaluit.
But Idlout is also the NDP’s Indigenous services critic, and, while the Liberals have spent billions on water infrastructure and child-welfare reform, she says the housing crisis is one issue they’ve overlooked.
“There just needs to be a lot more resources to make sure that First Nations, Métis and Inuit don’t continue to suffer third-world conditions because of promises that are not being implemented,” she said.
Housing has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately — from the tragic fire that claimed three children’s lives in Sandy Lake to a new report that links mouldy homes to elevated rates of respiratory illness in First Nations children.
But the crisis has been well documented for many years. So what does the minister say to the critics?
“There is obviously more work to be done,” answered Hajdu, “and my goal is to do it more quickly and more cohesively with First Nations and Indigenous communities, and to look for permanent solutions that are well supported so we don’t find ourselves again in 10 years talking about a lack of affordable housing.”
The Liberals want to close the infrastructure gap in Indigenous communities by 2030, but Idlout said they need to start delivering now lest that pledge become another in an already long list of broken ones.
“Go beyond your promises,” she urged. “All the promises that you’ve made for the last two parliaments need to be implemented.”
Watch the full interviews above.