The Trudeau government could have created a recognition of Indigenous rights framework in its previous term says its former justice minister.
“I wish, and know, we could have created that Indigenous rights framework early on in the last government,” said Jody Wilson-Raybould on Nation to Nation Thursday.
She also believes she could have written it.
“I have the ability to write such such a document, to participate in drafting legislation that will create that space,” the independent MP said.
That space is what’s needed to allow Indigenous nations, said Wilson-Raybould, to have the ability to rebuild and to reconcile their traditional systems in to the modern world, which will happen at their own pace.
But the federal government has to change their laws and operational policies to create that space.
“The federal government needs to ensure Indigenous peoples can take their place and create mechanisms for real reconciliation,” she said.
That means adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, commonly referred to as UNDRIP, as well as tabling legislation that gives First Nations the ability to step out from under the Indian Act.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood in the House of Commons almost two years ago on Valentine’s Day promising a recognition of Indigenous rights framework that would get rid of the Indian Act. Trudeau made another lofty promise: having the legislation written by the end of 2018, only to see if fall apart late that year.
Part of the reason it didn’t work is many Indigenous leaders believed it was being rushed with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett at the helm.
There was also a reported dispute between Wilson-Raybould and Bennett who were at odds over how it should be rolled out. Bennett wanted to do extensive consultation, while Wilson-Raybould believed it could be done sooner.
Wilson-Raybould said she firmly believes decisions should be made in a consensus.
“I do, however, know what Indigenous people have been asking for for generations and that is to have true recognition of their rights … it’s beyond dispute; Indigenous people have the right to self-government to self-determine how their nations and their communities move forward,” she said.
While Trudeau’s cabinet was at odds over the framework the SNC-Lavalin scandal was also unfolding behind the scenes.
Trudeau was putting pressure on Wilson-Raybould to get involved in the SNC-Lavalin’s bribery trial, which she repeatedly refused to do. Trudeau later shuffled her over to Veteran’s Affairs in January 2019. She stepped down shortly after that and Jane Philpott soon followed.
Both were then kicked out of the Liberal caucus and ran as independents in last fall’s federal election. Philpott was unsuccessful, while Wilson-Raybould beat the Liberal candidate by about 3,000 votes in Vancouver Granville.
Now that Wilson-Raybould is back in Ottawa as an independent, she believes she can still have an impact on the framework’s development.
“There is a long way to go. I was hopeful in the previous government we would have taken that step to create space for transformative change but as an independent member of Parliament, working across party lines, I’m going to continue to put as much pressure as I can on this government and work with Indigenous peoples across the country to do what’s right,” she said.
That begins with traveling the country soon giving speeches and speaking with Indigenous peoples.
“I’m going to be releasing documentation for consideration as part of this necessary dialogue in the near future,” she said.
While the overarching framework legislation wasn’t tabled as promised its influence was seen in bills, such as C-92, the Indigenous child welfare act and C-91, the Indigenous languages act, both of which were tabled and passed in last couple of months of the previous term.
Meanwhile, the federal government continues to work on some sort of recognition framework.
“We have a number of tables where recognition of rights is being discussed and coming forward,” said Liberal MP Anandasangaree, the parliamentary secretary for Crown-Indigenous Relations.
Anandasangaree also said the Liberal government intends to table UNDRIP legislation.