The House

First Nations want federal budget to back up government's words

The Prime Minister is promising a new era in the relations with the country's indigenous peoples and his government has launched the first phase of the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women... but are First Nations satisfied with words, or are they waiting to see if actions follow before passing judgement?
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, left, greets Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015 in Gatineau, Que. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Indigenous Canadians are looking forward to a federal budget in the spring that will "back up" the government's promises to reset the relationship with aboriginal peoples, said National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations. 

"Action plan is always the operative word," Bellegarde told host Chris Hall in an interview on CBC Radio's The House.

"It's nice to hear the talk, but there's a federal budget that has to be developed now, and hopefully that's all done in collaboration."

Bellegarde remains optimistic the government's words will be followed by concrete steps of action, whether it's movement on the national inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women or making "key investments" in housing, education and potable water.

He said proof of that optimism can be found in the attendance record of the recent annual assembly of chiefs in Gatineau, Que., organized by the AFN.

"We had a lot of firsts at our chiefs' assembly here," Bellegarde pointed out. "The first time we had a sitting Prime Minister address the chiefs, the first time we had two or three ministers from the Crown stay at the assembly, the first time we had the RCMP commissioner here.

It's about building that trust and respect and positive relationship."

Inquiry will make families 'front and centre'

Bellegarde said the AFN will be meeting with the federal government next week to discuss First Nations' involvement in the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women.

"Basically, we want to make sure the families are front and centre," he said. 

Bellegarde called this first phase of the inquiry the start of the healing process, but underlined the critical need for an action plan to follow consultations with the families.

"There's got to be detox centres, wellness centres, daycare centres, there's transportation issues that need to be dealt with," he said.

Racism in the RCMP

Bellegarde also discussed racism in police forces against indigenous peoples, after B.C. Grand Chief Doug Kelly confronted RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson at the chiefs' assembly this week.

"To even have the Commissioner be there in the assembly, to have him address that head-on — he openly admitted if there are racists within the RCMP, he will not condone that — that's a powerful statement," Bellegarde said of Paulson's acknowledgement of racism in the force.

"So I lift him up for openly, honestly admitting that."

Again, though, Bellegarde has ideas on how to go beyond words and into action. 

"Now we've got to develop a really strong partnership and work in collaboration together, to jointly develop strategies and programs to rid the RCMP of racism," he said.

Those strategies could also be applied to other police forces across the country, he added.

"It's power and authority and abuse, and that should not be tolerated in any police force," Bellegarde said.

"So when you have the highest official of any police force, the Commissioner of the RCMP, saying that, well, maybe other police forces can model that and develop strategies jointly with indigenous peoples to make sure we get rid of racism in policing and justice."

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