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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a speech to the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau


Good morning.

Thank you so much for your kind welcome.

Before I begin, I’d like to recognize the Algonquin Nation, on whose traditional territory we are gathering.  We acknowledge them as the past, present and future caretakers of this land.

Elders, youth, National Chief Bellegarde, members of the AFN executive and Chiefs-in-Assembly: thank you for the opportunity to be here with you today.

When I last joined you, in July of this year, I said that I hoped you’d invite me back, whatever my job title might be.

I’m so glad you took me up on that offer.

As you know, a few things have changed since we last met.  But I’m also struck by the things that endure.

Meeting with Canadians. 

Hearing your stories. 

And through those conversations, getting a better sense of what it is that people are going through.

You can’t be an effective Member of Parliament if you’re not doing those things each and every day.

And, that’s no less true when you’re Prime Minister.

The difference is that as Prime Minister, my government now has the opportunity to take that understanding and transform it into action.  Or as last week’s Throne Speech put it, “make real change happen.” 

One of the ways we will advance that agenda for real change is by making sure that the voices of Indigenous Peoples are heard in Ottawa.

That starts with our new Members of Parliament. 

Of the dozen Indigenous candidates that ran under my party’s banner during the last campaign, eight were elected to office. 

Of those eight, two – Hunter Tootoo from Nunavut and Jody Wilson-Raybould from Vancouver – are now serving as cabinet ministers.

They are joined at the cabinet table by an experienced and capable Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett.  Carolyn is new to that role, but as former Liberal critic for Aboriginal Affairs, she’s not new to the issues that matter to your members. 

But as you’ve heard me say before, it’s not just about individual people, or even individual governments.  What’s needed is nothing less than a total renewal of the relationship between Canada and First Nations Peoples.

During the election, I made a personal commitment to bring new leadership and a new tone to Ottawa.

I promised Canadians real change.  That includes not just doing different things, but also doing things differently.  Including the way that we, as a government, approach our relationships with others.

History has shown that taking an adversarial approach is not only ineffective – it can be profoundly damaging.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the government’s relationship with First Nations.

It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations Peoples.

One that understands that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation.

One that is based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.

One that is guided by the spirit and intent of the original treaty relationship; one that respects inherent rights, treaties and jurisdictions; and one that respects the decisions of our courts.

I know that renewing our relationship is an ambitious goal, but I am equally certain that it is one we can, and will, achieve if we work together.

This is a responsibility I take seriously, and I have instructed my government to do the same.

In the mandate letters given to government ministers, my expectations were clear.  I told them that no relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with First Nations, the Metis Nation, and Inuit Peoples.

Today, I give you my word that we will renew and respect that relationship.

We will work with you to rebuild trust.

We will tell the truth.

When we make mistakes – as all governments do – we will acknowledge our mistakes and learn from them.  

And we will work together with First Nations as full partners, inspired by the values of mutual respect, sharing and caring.

To that end, I’ve given the new Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs very explicit directions on how to move forward. 

Among her top priorities will be the creation of a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

I am pleased to announce that that process is already underway, and an update on our progress will be provided to you by Ministers Bennett, Wilson-Raybould and  Hajdu this afternoon.

We have made this inquiry a priority for our government because those touched by this national tragedy have waited long enough. The victims deserve justice, their families an opportunity to be heard and to heal.

We must work together to put an end to this ongoing tragedy.

A second priority will be to make significant investments in First Nations education.  This is one funding area where we know we can’t afford to wait, and we won’t. 

Every child and young person living in Canada deserves a real and fair chance at success.  First Nations students are no less deserving.

At the same time, we will never impose solutions from the top down.  We know this approach is wrong, and we know it doesn’t work.  While we share a commitment to improving education outcomes, we believe that education reforms that affect First Nations children must be led by First Nations.

Third, as National Chief Bellegarde alluded to, our government will immediately – as part of our first budget – lift the two percent cap on funding for First Nations programs.  As you know, that limit has been in place for nearly 20 years.  It hasn’t kept up with the demographic realities of your communities, nor the actual costs of program delivery.

It’s time for a new fiscal relationship with First Nations that gives your communities sufficient, predictable and sustained funding.  This is a promise we made, and a promise we will keep.

Fourth, and in partnership with Indigenous communities, the provinces, territories and other vital partners, we will fully implement the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

And fifth, we will conduct a full review of the legislation unilaterally imposed on Indigenous peoples by the previous government. Where measures are found to be in conflict with your rights, where they are inconsistent with the principles of good governance, or where they simply make no public policy sense, we will rescind them.

These are just five of the commitments we’ve made as part of our efforts to repair this most important relationship. 

There are many other actions we will undertake, from partnering with First Nations as we review and monitor major resource development projects to providing significant new funding to help promote, preserve, and protect Indigenous languages and cultures.

In every instance, we need your help.

We cannot close the gaps between the First Nations experience and those of others without a collaborative, nation-to-nation approach, like the one that resulted in the Kelowna Accord.

As leaders, that is a responsibility we share. 

Working together as partners, I am confident that we can make meaningful and immediate progress on the issues that matter most to your communities – things like education, housing, employment, health and mental health care, community safety, child welfare, and stewardship over our land, water and air.

Doing anything less is simply unacceptable. 

All our communities and all our children deserve the better future I know we can deliver if we work together.

As I said when we last met, a respectful, cooperative partnership is not only possible, it is a sacred responsibility inherited from past generations and entrusted to us by future ones.

I promise you that I will be your partner in the years to come, and hope that you will be mine.