No imminent First Nations policy changes, says Bennett, promising UNDRIP-related cabinet directive

Canada won’t be introducing new comprehensive land claims and inherent rights policies just yet, Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett told the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Thursday.

The announcement comes a day after hundreds of grassroots people, chiefs and Elders marched on an AFN policy forum to demand their involvement in any changes to federal policies impacting their rights.

Demonstrators condemned a June deadline by which government previously indicated to some First Nations it wanted to have the two key policies replaced.

The comprehensive claims policy applies to cases where Indigenous rights and title haven’t been addressed by treaties, while the inherent rights policy addresses the right of Indigenous peoples to govern themselves in their own communities and nations.

For weeks Bennett’s office has tried to appease concerns about the deadline, saying the government “will take the time to get it right.”

On Thursday Bennett reiterated that talking point, saying new policies by June are “not happening”.

Instead, she announced, the Liberals will issue a cabinet directive to federal officials by the end of June, “in which we would ensure that cede and surrender and extinguishment are no longer part of the conversation as we work on the path of self-determination.”

She said the directive will respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and that government will support a process “that is led by First Nations rights and treaty holders [to] co-develop rights-based policies that can replace the comprehensive land claims policy and inherent right policies.”

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced Thursday that the Liberals will issue a cabinet directive on Comprehensive Land Claims and Inherent Right Policies. Justin Brake/APTN.

Bennett also said government will work with First Nations to improve the specific claims and the additions to reserve policies.

More than half of the 634 First Nations are currently in dialogue or negotiations with the government, Bennett said, explaining that in ‘getting it right’ government will “uphold and affirm First Nations’ rights, title and jurisdiction.”

For its review of the four key First Nations policies, the feds are engaging the AFN and First Nations Canada are currently engaged with.

Others, such as member nations of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) and the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI), say the government’s efforts to overhaul rights-based legislation and policies have fallen short of the minimum international Indigenous rights standards.

Some chiefs criticized the 10 principles developed by former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, saying the government should have asked First Nations to develop the guidelines for negotiations around legislation, policy and Indigenous rights, title and jurisdiction.

Some, including many who demonstrated in Edmonton Wednesday, condemned the AFN’s role in negotiating the policy changes while the majority of those who will be impacted have little to no input.

Others, still, questioned the need to engage with Canada at all, and suggested First Nations simply begin, or continue, to assert their own rights, title and jurisdiction within their communities and territories.

Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nation addressed Bennett Thursday, asking rhetorically why First Nations are “asking Canada to return something that they’ve stolen?”

He encouraged First Nations to “reclaim and take back what is yours — put the onus on Canada to make a specific claim to us for lands.”

Bennett said that by the end of June, when the cabinet directive is issued, the existing comprehensive claims and inherent rights policies will be removed from the government’s website.

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