Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took some pointed questions from students at Oskayak High School in Saskatoon today about his government's commitment to improve the living conditions of Indigenous people in Canada.
"How do you, Justin, with all your politicians and representatives plan to right the wrongs of the past 22 elected prime ministers?" asked a young woman who wanted to know why the prime minister would allow Indigenous people to live in "Third World conditions."
Her question was met with loud applause from fellow students gathered in the school gymnasium to hear Trudeau speak.
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The First Nations community of Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency earlier this month after several people, including many youth, tried to commit suicide. Other First Nations communities in Ontario and across the country have also declared health emergencies since the beginning of the year.
"What we have to start doing is recognizing, first and foremost, that the federal government can't fix this," Trudeau said on Wednesday. "We can't fix it on our own."
Trudeau said that actions taken by successive Canadian governments went "horribly wrong in its consequences," despite some "very well meaning" intentions.
"Quite frankly, as you point out," Trudeau said to the young woman, "this is a stain and a scar upon — not just on our sense of who we are and our morality as Canadians, but on the kind of country we need to be building wherein everyone has a real and fair chance of success."
Trudeau reiterated his government's commitment to renewing the "nation-to-nation" relationship with Indigenous people in a spirit of "respect, openness and collaboration."
"Yes, the federal government has a lot of work to do but Indigenous Canadians have a lot of work to do as well, and doing it together in the same direction is going to be how we get through it," Trudeau said.
The new Liberal government committed in its first budget to invest $8.4 billion over five years to improve the lives of Indigenous people.
Trudeau told the students that investment is "just a start."
"It's a good start, but this is going to take many more years and many more billions of dollars to fix a relationship that has been broken for centuries — as you point out," Trudeau said before taking a few more questions about the deplorable living difficult conditions facing many Indigenous communities across the country.
The prime minister arrived in Saskatchewan following a three-day federal cabinet retreat in Kananaskis, Alta., where news of Canadian John Ridsdel's death at the hands Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines dominated the agenda.
Earlier in the week, Trudeau gave a shout-out to entrepreneur Kendal Netmaker, the Aboriginal founder and CEO of Neechie Gear Inc. athletic clothing company in Saskatchewan.
Neechie Gear was created five years ago as a University of Saskatchewan project and it blossomed into a brand and a business Netmaker has managed ever since graduation.
Trudeau is scheduled to meet with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall later today.