Justin Trudeau's attendance at Special Chiefs Assembly spurs hope for real change

The Special Chiefs Assembly starts tomorrow in Gatineau, Quebec and many hope Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's attendance means real change is coming, especially on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.

Justin Trudeau will be the first prime minister to attend the assembly since his father did so during his time

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, now Prime Minister, addresses the Assembly of First Nations general assembly in Montreal on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. This week Justin Trudeau will be the first prime minister to attend the Special Chiefs Assembly since his father did during his time in office. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The Special Chiefs Assembly starts tomorrow in Gatineau, Quebec and many hope Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's attendance means real change is coming, especially on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. 

Trudeau will be the first prime minister to attend the assembly since his father did so during his time in office. It's a sign of changing times, says one First Nations leader.

"I think it's very significant, I think it's the first time there's a lot of excitement brewing before the assembly," said Shane Gottfriedson, B.C's Regional Chief with the Assembly of First Nations.

Missing and murdered women

Gottfriedson, who took over from Jody Wilson-Raybould, now Canada's justice minister, says the federal government can take important lessons from B.C.'s 2011 inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

Chief Shane Gottfriedson says First Nations community need a better fiscal relationship with the federal government in order to address persisting poverty in aboriginal communities. (Samantha Garvey/CBC)

"I believe that their recommendations are looking at a pre-inquiry and consultation process to insure that the inquiry is designed in advance and [in a way] that will allow it to be successful," he said. "But also not just for the girls in British Columbia, all of our indigenous girls from coast to coast to coast."

Part of that pre-inquiry process will require working with frontline groups like the Coalition on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, who have the expertise and experience working with families on this issue, said Gottfriedson.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett has already started pre-inquiry consultations with families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

It's all part of the shift in thinking that is needed if Prime Minister Trudeau wants a "new relationship" with First Nations, says Gottfriedson.

"I think we need to be able to reverse the measures of how we conduct business. It does not need to be adversarial all the time and fighting in the courts."

"I think we need to look at a full partnership that benefits our citizens and creates more certainty in this country. and at  the end of the day, we're all here to stay. We're not going anywhere."

The bigger picture

Gottfriedson says the root cause of the ongoing issue of missing and murdered indigenous women continues to exist.

"When you look in British Columbia, then across the country and around the world, our women continue to go missing and murdered in very high numbers. I think we need to be able to understand how we can look at the root cause of the issue."

Also on the table at this week's meetings is a new fiscal relationship between the federal government and First Nations.

This will not only help communities fight persistent poverty, but it is part of the bigger goal of self-governance and reconciliation, says Gottfriedson.

"I also believe that a federal reconciliation framework, looking at partnership ... should include mechanisms to advance and strengthen our self government and independence, but also to resolve our grievances of both treaty and modern day land agreements."

Gottfriedson is hopeful this week's Special Chiefs Assembly will yield promising results.

"I think now with Prime Minister Trudeau talking with equality … it's our responsibility as leaders to do things right."


To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: AFN Chief Shane Gottfriedson pushes for federal action on missing women.