'Holding Canada to account': Crown-Indigenous minister meets with P.E.I.'s First Nations leaders
'This is about treating the First Nations peoples and honouring those inherent rights'
Helping First Nations on their path to self-determination is something the Canadian government needs to do to entrench Indigenous rights, says Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.
Bennett was in P.E.I. Wednesday as part of a national tour to develop a legal framework to recognize Indigenous rights, and met with Abegweit First Nation Chief Brian Francis and Lennox Island First Nation Chief Matilda Ramjattan.
"It's a very exciting time as we have this opportunity … to reconstitute nations, the Mi'kmaq nation on P.E.I., even the greater Mi'kmaq nation across Atlantic Canada," she told CBC's Island Morning.
The new framework is meant to cut down on costly legal battles between First Nations and the federal government and help develop self-governance.
'This is a recognition of rights'
Bennett has been involved in 90 meetings to date and she said the most common theme is getting rid of the barriers that stand in the way of reaching self-determination and self-governance.
"This is a recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership," she said.
This is mainly about holding Canada to account, our code of conduct of how we now deal differently with First Nations, Inuit and Metis .— Carolyn Bennett
The government's goal during this period of consultation is to "make it feel like a real partnership," she said, as opposed to the paternalism that's been in effect since before Confederation.
"This is about treating the First Nations peoples and honouring those inherent rights that they have had," she said.
"And making sure that what was negotiated in the constitution in 1982 is now a full box of rights and not just this empty box that has to be proven in court."
Focused meetings on P.E.I.
When asked why she was not going to meet with the Native Council of P.E.I., Bennett said she was working within a tight timeline and the consultation process was not dealing with the non-status component.
The Native Council represents off-reserve and non-status Aboriginal people.
"Right now, with this shortened time I have on the Island, we've got to get this work done on the section 35 rights," Bennett said. "We are right now dealing with what needs to be in legislation this fall."
Bennett said the framework is being co-developed with the rights holders and that she hopes consultations will be held in the House of Commons and Senate and complete before the next federal election.
"We hope to have a document in the next little while that will be about the suggestions we've heard for the drafting instructions. We then need the feedback on that and hope to be able to get something into the house this fall," she said.
"This is mainly about holding Canada to account, our code of conduct of how we now deal differently with First Nations, Inuit and Métis."
'Continuous relationship building'
Bennett, Francis and Ramjattan were in agreement that Wednesday's discussions were productive.
"We have a minister and a government that we feel really wants to move this agenda forward in a collaborative way," said Francis.
Ramjattan said "We're not adequately funded, so we want to be able to put our ideas forward in how we feel we want to be … So that they're not dictating to us, how they're going to work with us."
"We set the guidelines around the parameters on all the different areas. That's a better approach then what has been historically done in the past."
In terms of next steps, both chiefs said they will regroup on the different areas discussed and then follow up with Bennett.
"It's continuous relationship building," said Ramjattan.
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With files from Island Morning, Compass and Jessica Doria-Brown