'Very paternalistic': National chief voices concerns with proposed reconciliation council
Bill C-29 gets mixed reviews from leaders as House of Commons committee begins study
Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald says it's "very concerning" that the federal Crown-Indigenous Relations minister would get to appoint the majority of the proposed national council for reconciliation's first board of directors.
Archibald, testifying with other First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders on Monday, told members of Parliament studying the draft text of Bill C-29, which would establish the council, that that element of the bill should be scrapped.
"We do feel it's inappropriate for the federal government to grant itself the discretion to appoint the majority of the board of directors responsible for providing this independent oversight of its own actions," Archibald testified before the House of Commons Indigenous affairs committee.
"This is not within the spirit and intent of reconciliation, and it's very paternalistic."
In 2015, in Call to Action 53, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended Ottawa create the national council as an independent oversight body tasked with monitoring, evaluating and reporting annually to Parliament on the government's reconciliation progress.
The Liberals tabled C-29 last year in a bid to satisfy that call to action. The bill says the council would not be a Crown agency, but rather a not-for-profit corporation helmed by between nine and 13 directors.
The first directors "are to be selected by the minister in collaboration with the transitional committee," which has already been in operation. Subsequent directors would be elected under a scheme invented by the first board.
Archibald echoed concerns Conservative MPs have been raising, accusing the Liberals of giving themselves too much "direct control" over the council during the last committee meeting.
In response, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller acknowledged the "perception" of federal influence over the council might exist, but said establishing it as a not-for-profit corporation ensures independence.
Archibald also told MPs the council will need to have a guarantee of adequate funding to be truly independent.
Other leaders back bill, request minor changes
Meanwhile, other Indigenous leaders generally backed the bill while pointing out minor holes or requesting minor amendments.
Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which advocates for Inuit nationally, questioned whether a not-for-profit corporation would have the teeth to actually oversee the government's conduct.
"The proposed body is mainly focused on reporting and awareness raising," Obed said.
"It would not be in a position to provide meaningful redress for the ongoing impacts of colonization. This is the reason why ITK has proposed an Indigenous Peoples human rights tribunal through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."
Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron said the MNC largely supports the bill.
"Fulfilling TRC Call to Action 53 will be a significant step in the right direction on our collective journey forward in this country and while Bill C-29 will support this through the creation of the independent, non-political, permanent and Indigenous-led organization, we do believe that in some circumstances the legislation does not quite go far enough," said Caron.
She said, for instance, that there hasn't been enough movement on Call to Action 55, which urges all levels of government to hand over data the reconciliation council would require to do its work — on child welfare, education, health and several other topics.
She also suggested the council could use more teeth, subpoena power for example, "to ensure this government or subsequent governments into the future could not shield or refuse to provide full access to reports or data required to meet its mandate."
AFN, ITK and MNC would each get to nominate one director.
'More of a trap': MMF OK with absence
The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) wasn't present at Monday's hearing.
As it currently stands, the MMF won't be represented on the reconciliation council after the federation withdrew from the MNC last fall, citing long-standing internal disputes about citizenship and governance.
But President David Chartrand told CBC News last week he's not concerned about the MMF's absence, saying the vast majority of the TRC and its recommendations were aimed at reconciliation with First Nations.
"There's no merit" for the Métis to be on the council given how many issues impacting Métis in Canada remain unresolved, Chartrand said.
For example, Métis weren't included in legal settlements over the federal administration of Indian day schools as well as, before that, the Sixties Scoop, Chartrand said, adding he'd rather work directly with Ottawa to settle those and a host of other issues.
"I can't see the merit for us," he said.
"I see more of a trap than a proper position for us to be at."
Others are not content to be left out, however.
The Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) expressed concern about its exclusion.
"C-29 is an important bill, and one which we have eagerly awaited, because it is about implementation of the 94 Calls to Action," said President Carole McBride in a statement.
"NWAC was disheartened to be excluded from the process of nominating a director on the NCR."
When the bill was tabled, former TRC commissioner Wilton Littlechild said it should've been co-drafted with Indigenous people.
Under questioning from Conservative MPs who cited Littlechild's comment, not one witness at Monday's hearing said the Liberals consulted them.
The committee will study the bill before passing it back to the House of Commons to be read a third time.
If it passes there, the bill will go to the Senate to repeat the process.