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Former prime minister Paul Martin, seen on a video screen, looms large over other well-known Canadians at the inaugural Victoria Forum in the Victoria Conference Centre on Friday. From left: moderator Anna Maria Tremonti, host of CBC Radio’s The Current, Roberta Jamieson, president and chief executive officer of the national charity Indspire, Kim Campbell, former prime minister, and Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde is calling for a relationship in this country based on peaceful co-existence and mutual respect — one that sees Indigenous Peoples holding influential roles that help shape the future.

He wants to see more Indigenous Peoples on decision-making boards and authorities.

“I need help getting that done. I would love to see a First Nations person on the Supreme Court of Canada. I’d love to see people on the National Energy Board.”

The more diversity, the better the decisions, Bellegarde said. “That is what we need if we are going to build a better country.”

This can happen as we transition toward a nation-to-nation relationship where First Nations’ jurisdiction is respected, including validation of Indigenous law, he said.

Bellegarde was a member of the Victoria Forum’s opening panel, which also featured former prime ministers Kim Campbell and Paul Martin (via video link), and Roberta Jamieson, president and chief executive officer of Indspire, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering Indigenous education.

Panellists urged the audience to listen and respect one another, acknowledging that the future might be difficult but saying the effort is worthwhile.

The three-day Victoria Forum is dedicated to fostering diversity and inclusion as Canada marks its 150th anniversary. About 250 people registered for the inaugural event staged by the University of Victoria and Global Affairs Canada.

Looking to the future, Bellegarde said: “We are going to need everybody’s help to get through this. We are all in this together. Nobody is going anywhere. We’re here, you’re here.”

He noted that while Canada as a whole ranks sixth in the world in terms of its quality of life, the country’s Indigenous population is in 63rd spot. This is due to factors such as boil-water advisories for communities without clean water, a high rate of children in foster care, the large proportion of Indigenous Peoples in jails, and intergenerational trauma.

“I need your help to make sure that this gap closes.”

Campbell said: “What is important is a willingness to engage.”

Indigenous children make up close to half the children in foster care in Canada.

Martin, of the Martin Family Initiative, which works with Indigenous Peoples to improve education for First Nation children, called that “immoral.” “It is a destruction of our values.”

Martin, who was also a federal finance minister, said that this country will not have decent economic growth unless Indigenous Peoples are given their due.

Jamieson said it is important to educate Canadians about Indigenous Peoples and to educate Indigenous Peoples so that they can help shape the country’s future.She urged everyone to “keep a good mind.”This means being constructive rather than critical, and presenting ideas and solutions.Jamieson asked how people will judge us 150 years — or seven generations — from now.“Our people say: ‘Whose faces can you see coming toward you?’ ”

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