With a simple statement in New York this week about First Nations’ rights, the Trudeau government gambled that Ottawa can forge a new, productive partnership with indigenous Canadians.
The stakes are high. Failure could mean billions of dollars of economic opportunity lost and thousands of indigenous Canadians, especially First Nations living on reserves, consigned to another generation of poverty. Success requires everyone – government, business, indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians alike – to think and act differently.
“We are not in a good place now,” says Brenda Gunn, a professor of law at the University of Manitoba. “Canada’s not at peace. But recognizing rights is how we actually live together in a harmonious relationship. This is how we can reconcile.”
Technically, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett has removed qualifications attached to Canada’s 2010 signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. By removing those qualifications, the Canadian government is saying that it intends to live by the spirit of the declaration.
Although the gesture is largely symbolic, it suggests that this government accepts the message that the Supreme Court has been sending to Liberal and Conservative governments for four decades with rulings that have strengthened the rights of native and other indigenous people. The relationship between Canada and its indigenous peoples, the courts are saying, should be a partnership. Justin Trudeau, it would seem, agrees.
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