Members of Canada’s Senate, as part of the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples visited the Gateway to the North this week.
Senators visited the Cosmopolitan Lodge in the Little Red River Park on March 22, hosting discussions and collecting feedback from First Nations and Métis people about what their ideal nation-to-nation relationship would look like.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously said no relationship was more important than between Indigenous people and Canada. The committee, headed by Sask. Senator Lillian Dyck, hosted hearings with First Nations and Métis people across the prairies, looking into what a nation-to-nation relationship looks like.
“Now [the government] announced this recognition and implementation of inherent rights,” Dyck said. “They’re starting to move along those lines, but, I think typical of government, they’re not really talking necessarily to people in the communities.”
The Liberal senator, a member of the George Gordon First Nation, said for First Nations and Métis people, consultation requires more than talking to national or provincial leaders. She said a common theme between the first four meetings had been getting to know each other.
She said people have told the committee a nation-to-nation relationship cannot happen without both parties understanding who each other is and where each side is coming from.
N.S. Independent Senator Dan Christmas, a member of the Membertou First Nation, said his discussions with chiefs along the trip have showed him the value of the numbered treaties.
“With the Treaty people… when we ask them the question what does a nation-to-nation relationship, they reply ‘it’s the treaties,’” Christmas said, adding a few of those he spoke with identified the queen, not the government of Canada, as who they entered into the agreements with.
“They saw the relationship with the queen, the crown as the basis for their nation-to-nation relationship,” he said.
Christmas said he was struck by idea because Canada has evolved and the queen’s role has changed since the numbered Treaty agreements were signed. The senator said now, the challenge is to “reset the clock” to establish a relationship with Treaty nations which included the Crown.
He said he understood and shares the fear of Treaty nations and leaders that a new concept of nation-to-nation could be something which replaces or even ignores the historical agreements they’ve signed.
“If [a new relationship is] not based on a Treaty relationship, then I say you’re wasting your time,” Christmas said. “Treaty people, I don’t think anyway, will ever accept that kind of nation-to-nation process outside of a Treaty relationship.”
He said if the Government of Canada is serious about building a true relationship with First Nation people, the numbered Treaty agreements will be a foundation for future discussions.
Christmas said stops in Buffalo Lake, Alta. and Île-à-la-Crosse, Sask. showed him Métis people need to have their own distinct relationship with the federal government.
While he was unsure what a new relationship would look like, Christmas called for a fiscal transfer relationship between the federal and provincial governments and Métis communities.
He said an agreement would ideally allow Métis people to decide how they want to be governed, and give them the resources they need to provide the same basic services other Canadians enjoy.
“One serious gap I was astounded with, is the lack of support either level of government… provide Elders, I find it appalling,” Christmas said. “To hear stories from Elders, even here today, that can’t even get to medical appointments, because there’s no transportation… to me, that’s unacceptable.”
Senator Scott Tannas, from Calgary, said Île-à-la-Crosse was identified to the standing committee as a strong, vibrant Métis community which could act as a great voice for people in Sask. and the West.
He said he appreciated how open and forthcoming the leadership in Île-à-la-Crosse was about the problems which exist there.
“The leaders there spent a great deal of time preparing before we actually got there, to provide answers to five important questions that we had posed,” Tannas said, adding the standing committee was confident they heard what they needed to hear when they left Île-à-la-Crosse.
The Conservative Senator said the move to renew the relationship between the federal government was laudable, but the idea of what a nation-to-nation relationship looks like still needs to be clarified. He said only First Nations and Métis people can tell the senators what things would look like in the future.
“We’re not likely to enjoy it in our lifetimes, but, we can work to achieve it for future generations,” Tannas said. “I’m an eternal optimist, I think we can get there, but we need a lot more clarity as to what it is we’re trying to achieve.”
Tannas said the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples would move on to Winnipeg for more hearings with urban Indigenous people, who make up roughly 50 per cent of Indigenous people in Canada on March 23. The comittee will then address the marijuana bill and where their group stands on that topic, before returning to hosting hearings about the naton-to-nation relationshop in either B.C. or the maritimes by the end of June. Once the committee has wrapped up their hearings, they will submit their reccomendations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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