APTN National News
OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directed Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett to lead the renewal of “the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples,” according to a mandate letter released publicly Friday.
The mandate letters outline the prime minister’s priorities for individual ministers. While the letters are traditionally kept confidential, the Trudeau government decided to release the documents as a show of transparency.
The letters appear to show that the Trudeau government is serious about renewing the relationship between the federal government and Indigenous peoples. While Bennett has been tasked with leading the engagement, the Trudeau government believes all cabinet ministers have a responsibility to support the task, according to the letters.
“No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples,” wrote Trudeau in a paragraph contained in all the mandate letters. “It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.”
Trudeau’s mandate letter to Bennett essentially restates the Liberal party’s campaign promises on the Indigenous affairs file.
Trudeau has directed Bennett to work on lifting the two per cent cap on First Nation funding, review all federal laws to ensure they comply with Aboriginal rights and help establish an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, according to the mandate letter.
“As Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, your overarching goal will be to renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples. This renewal must be a nation-to-nation relationship, based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership,” wrote Trudeau in the mandate letter to Bennett. “I expect you to re-engage in a renewed nation-to-nation process with Indigenous Peoples to make real progress on the issues most important to First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit communities – issues like housing, employment, health and mental health care, community safety and policing, child welfare, and education.”
While offering no concrete details, the letters provide the broad strokes of the Liberal government’s sweeping plan to change the relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
Trudeau is scheduled to meet with Indigenous leaders in December in a gathering timed to coincide with the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) final report. Currently, Dec. 15 is being floated as the possible date for the meeting.
The prime minister has also been invited to speak at the Assembly of First Nations special chiefs assembly scheduled to begin Dec. 8 at a casino in Gatineau, Que., which sits across the Ottawa River from the national capital.
The top item in Bennett’s mandate letter deals with implementing the TRC’s 94 recommendations which were released earlier this year.
Trudeau directs Bennett to “support the work of reconciliation and continue the necessary process of truth telling and healing, work with provinces and territories and First Nations, the Metis Nation and Inuit to implement recommendations of the (TRC), starting with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
The letter also directs Bennett to work with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to develop the approach and mandate for the promised inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women. It will be up to Bennett and Wilson-Raybould to identify the lead minister on the inquiry, the letter said.
Bennett and Wilson-Raybould will also be working on a review of all federal “laws, polices and operational practices” to ensure they comply with constitutionally enshrined Aboriginal and treaty rights along with the obligations set out in the UN declaration, according to the letter.
In another directive that could have a profound impact, Trudeau directed Bennett to work with Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Environment Minister and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna to amend environmental assessment legislation to enhance consultation with Indigenous peoples and improve the ability of Indigenous groups to review and monitor resource projects.
It’s unclear how these amendments will impact projects now in the regulatory review process. The National Energy Board is currently holding hearings on TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline.
Trudeau also directs Bennett to make “significant new investments” in First Nation on-reserve education under the principle of First Nations control of First Nations education.
On the infrastructure front, Bennett is expected to work with Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi to find investments to improve living conditions in Indigenous communities.
Bennett will also be responsible for working with residential school survivors, Indigenous communities along with the provinces and territories to ensure information on Aboriginal rights, residential schools and Indigenous contributions to Canada’s evolution is included in school curricula, said the letter.
In addition, Bennett’s agenda includes improving the Nutrition North food subsidy programs for northern communities, contributing to consultations on developing a national early learning and childcare framework, increasing available shelter spaces for families facing domestic violence and pushing for economic development and job creation for Indigenous peoples.