What a Liberal majority means to First Nations

When Pam Palmater heard Canada's next prime minister speak about a "renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples that respects rights and honours treaties," in his victory speech Monday, she says she had mixed feelings of hope and skepticism.

Core issues prevalent in First Nations need to be addressed in first 100 days, says Pam Palmater

In his victory speech Monday, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau spoke of 'a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples.' (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

When Pam Palmater heard Justin Trudeau, Canada's next prime minister, speak about a "renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples that respects rights and honours treaties," in his victory speech Monday, she says she had mixed feelings of hope and skepticism.

"It has to be a wait and see, because political promises are worth nothing until they are realized," said Palmater, who is a Mi'kmaq lawyer and chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University in Toronto.

"I am practical. I look at the history of the Liberals. I mean, murdered and missing indigenous women just didn't become an issue, it's been an issue for decades," said Palmater.

As part of his campaign, Trudeau promised to call an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, to spend $2.6 billion over four years for on reserve education and to end all boil-water advisories in First Nations in five years.

But Palmater has not forgotten about the White Paper, the two per cent cap on education and the issue of bad water on reserves.

"All of the problems the First Nations have are equally contributed to [by] the Conservative and Liberal governments."

Palmater said the first 100 days are crucial. She wants Trudeau to act now on what she calls a "national crisis" on core issues that are prevalent in most First Nations across the country.

"We really need to save our people. We really need to get our kids out of foster care, we need to get our people out of prisons and we need to restore some resemblance of justice in our communities."

Dealing with trauma after trauma

Rhonda Head has lived on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, in northern Manitoba, for most of her life.

"I'm hoping that Justin Trudeau helps us with the healing for the trauma that was imposed on us by past governments," Head said.

Head points to the refusal by the former government to declare the residential school system a cultural genocide, despite both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and United Nations stating this was the case.

Head said she sees the results of those traumas in "high alcoholism, high apprehension, and the jails are filled with First Nations people. Of course, there's also the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women."

Head was a believer of the social media trend, "Anyone But Conservatives." It's what got her involved in Indigenous Rock the Vote. She was part of a crew that drove hundreds of First Nations people to the polls on Oct. 19.

Opaskwayak Cree Nation, which is in the Churchill- Keewatinook Aski riding, saw a 50 per cent increase in voter turnout. Nikki Ashton held her NDP seat, but Head is hopeful that Trudeau will live up to his campaign promises.

Closing the gap

National Chief Perry Bellegarde says the way forward is through co-operation and collaboration.

"It's positive. It's all about communication and access. That's the first step," Bellegarde said. He noted that Trudeau will be the only prime minister to mention a nation-to-nation relationship. "We are going to build upon that."

Bellegarde wants to close the gap between Canada and First Nations people.

"That gap represents the cap on education, that gap represents the overcrowded housing, that gap represents the high suicide rate, that gap represents 132 communities with boil-water advisories. It also represents the high disproportionate rate of incarceration," Bellegarde said.

"When the prime minister-elect talks about closing the gap, that's a positive statement, very strong."

Strategic voting at play

That promise of a nation-to-nation relationship is what convinced Peter Campbell from North Spirit Lake First Nation to campaign for the Liberal Party within the Kenora riding.

"I went with Bob Nault to five reserves as he was trying to muster up some support," Campbell said.

Nault was the Liberal MP in the riding for 16 years and served as Indian affairs minister from 1999 to 2003. In January, he put his name forward once again, after losing the seat to the Conservatives over 10 years ago. 

Campbell knows Nault's record in dealing with First Nations issues isn't favourable. However, he chose to take a strategic approach.

"Do you want your MP to be sitting across the aisle or do you want your MP to be inside with the governing power?"

And now that Nault will be part of a majority government, Campbell is expecting him to turn his attention to indigenous issues, including the boil-water advisories in First Nations communities.

Trudeau is expected to appoint his cabinet on Nov. 4.


Tiar Wilson was raised in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Manitoba. She's reported for APTN National News, CBC Winnipeg, and CBC North. Tiar is also involved with CBC's database of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and continues to share the stories of these women, their families and communities. She's currently reporting for CBC Aboriginal. @yourpaltiar.


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