Opinion

Trudeau's promise of a renewed relationship with Indigenous Peoples seems to be all talk

When it comes to actually delivering on its promises, this government falters

PM Indigenous 20161215

The Liberals approved the Trans Mountain pipeline without the consent of First Nations. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

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The seemingly never-ending string of transgressions from a government that's supposed to be resetting its relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples just got another addition.

Earlier this month, the Prime Minister's Office announced in a news release that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with premiers and Indigenous leaders on Oct. 3, boasting about Canada's "progress towards a true nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, and government-to-government relationship."

The problem was, at least one of those Indigenous leaders, Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said the announcement was the first he heard about the meeting.

Oops. Uh, what were you saying about Canada's progress?

"It does frustrate me but it's also just indicative of where we are," Obed told CBC.

"If you want it to be about benchmarks about two years in, this is where we are."

Trans Mountain pipeline

It's hard not to agree with him. This government talks a lot about renewing its relationship with Indigenous Peoples, but when it comes to actually delivering on its promises, it falters.

One of the most recent and obvious examples of that is the Liberals' green light of the $7.4-billion Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which has been widely opposed by environmentalists and Indigenous communities alike.

When construction of the 1,150-kilometre expansion project begins later this month, it's likely to be met with fierce protests from First Nations who are furious that the Liberals approved the project in the first place, without their consent.

"These devastating mega-projects must obtain the free, prior and informed consent of all affected Indigenous Peoples. Period," wrote Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs in an Aug. 11 news release.

The Liberals, however, didn't seem to get that message — or else, didn't seem to care. Even with B.C.'s new premier vowing to fight it, the pipeline seems a done deal.

"This is something we've already done a tremendous [amount] of work on, recognizing the principles of consent, recognizing the rights of First Nations," said Jane Philpott, as if to suggest the government is too sunk in this project to remember its commitment Indigenous Canadians.

Cabinet Shuffle 20170828

Philpott was recently named head of the Indigenous Services department. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Philpott was recently named head of the newly formed Indigenous Services department, the very creation of which blindsided many, even though "co-operating and partnership" are supposed to be the bedrocks of this new relationship.

Carolyn Bennett, former Indigenous Affairs minister and now minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, is a fixture at gatherings of the people she purports to work for.

Yet in the weeks and months leading up to the announcement of this historic department split, she and her counterparts said nothing publicly about it.

Child welfare funding

But perhaps the most glaring demonstration of the disingenuity of the promise of this new relationship is the long-standing and continued discrimination against First Nations children on reserves.

Tens of thousands of First Nations kids are in a child welfare system that gets nearly 40 per cent less funding than their provincial counterparts. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal first ordered the feds to remedy this gross inequity in a landmark 2016 ruling.

Little has happened since, despite three more orders to comply.

"Canada is saying it's above the law, it doesn't owe First Nations children equality in this country," said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, which launched the nine-year legal action along with the Assembly of First Nations that led to the ruling.

Even with this track record, Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould still stood before her former colleagues at the Assembly of First Nations bi-annual meeting in July and extolled the virtues of her government, while asking for patience.

The change was real, she assured them.

"Some of you may not be believing that this is actually happening. To those of you who would think this way, I can tell you, under the leadership of our Prime Minister and from the perspective of my seat, or in my seat, it is happening."

She's right about one thing: many don't believe it.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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