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Natan Obed, Chief Perry Bellegard and Clement Chartier discuss the Indigenous perspective. Credit: Tania Budgell The Canadian government has met several times with Indigenous leaders in the past year to establish what it calls a Nation-to-Nation dialog aimed at closing the gap between our First Nations, Inuit and Metis and the socio-economic benefits of the Twenty-first Century enjoyed by other Canadians.

What do Canada’s Indigenous people want? The same rights enjoyed by the rest of Canada: control over land ownership, their government and laws, their languages, the education and well-being of their children, and the opportunity to participate in the resource economies.

The process of reaching those goals may be complicated, but it begins with genuine respect for our Aboriginal population.

Respect was evident at the Nation-to-Nation meeting in Ottawa at the end of November. Delegates listened to chiefs from across Canada, politicians, former Prime Ministers, businessmen, and activist youth. Their views may have differed slightly on the details, but to a person they are committed to closing the socio-economic gaps that have arisen over the past 150 years.

CMJ is taking a look at the main themes addressed and how change will take place.

A proud history, a shameful failing

Native Canadians have a long and proud history – far longer than the 500 years that Europeans have trod the land. Indigenous culture is anchored in an oral tradition that addresses all aspects of creation, life and death. Their view of the world is no less valid than a European religious one.

“We want to share our stories, our culture,” said Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kantami. “Then we can respect each other in a new and complete way. We want to build this country with you. There is a place for all of us.”

The earliest treaties were based on sharing the land and its resources, and many in the native community would like to see a return to those values. The First Nations were marginalized by the Indian Act of 1876, or as Chief Wayne Christian of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council called it “the most racist piece of legislation in the world. It’s crap.”

Native peoples have endured the extinguishment of their rights, and the kidnapping – if that is not too strong a word – of their children who were forced into residential schools where they were abused and their languages forbidden.

Notably, the Indian Act does not cover the Inuit and Metis or the First Nations in regions that were not yet part of Canada, i.e. British Columbia.

Nor have their rights been restored by the British North America Act of 1931, or the Constitution Act of 1982, the Charter or Rights and Freedoms, or the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords.

Thanks in part to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), we are all on a healing journey said National Chief Perry Bellegarde. It may not be perfect, but most Indigenous people see its recommendations as signposts to a better way forward.

Treaties must not be considered as final, but as living documents that change as the world changes yet honour their underlying principles.

Self-determination not optional

The bottom line for Indigenous peoples is self-determination. They want to be participants, not recipients. This desire underpins so many Indigenous court cases that demand this right. And the Aboriginal arguments are most often the winning arguments.Before that happens, native Canadians will have to define their own nationhood.As things stand now, there are three “nations” – Inuit, Metis and First Nations.That definition is too narrow. It might be too broad if every one of the 600+ bands is a separate nation. Or the definition might […]

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