With little fanfare, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett visited Iqaluit April 5 and 6 for consultations with Inuit.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Feb. 14 that the federal government would develop a Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework in partnership with Inuit, First Nations and Metis.
“The federal government’s absence over generations in recognizing and implementing Indigenous rights has resulted in social and economic exclusion, uncertainty, and litigation – when our shared focus should have always been on creating prosperity and opportunity for everyone,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons.
He further promised engagement would continue throughout the spring and that it was the government’s “firm intention to have the framework introduced this year, and implemented before the next election.”
With an election scheduled for Oct. 21, 2019, the government has 18 months to meet its implementation date.
Bennett was in Iqaluit for two days to meet with Inuit groups in Nunavut.
“On Thursday, April 5 she will meet with Inuit leaders, elders, women and artists. She will then meet with the Government of Nunavut, as well as Inuit students on Friday, April 6,” stated Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) spokesperson Edith Pedneault via e-mail.
Pedneault also said the meetings are closed to the media.
The framework’s intention is to address the unfulfilled rights of Indigenous people as per Section 35 of the Constitution Act which recognized and affirmed 35 years ago Aboriginal and treaty rights.
“You see, the challenge – then and now – is that while Section 35 recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and treaty rights, those rights have not been implemented by our governments,” said Trudeau.
INAC has so far publicly posted on its website summaries of two weeks’ worth of engagements that took place in February immediately after the announcement.
Between Feb. 15 and 17, Bennett met with leaders in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, including Mi’gmag and Wolastoqey (Maliseet), Mi’kmaq and Peskotomuhkati chiefs, women, elders and youth, and academics.
Topics discussed to improve the lives of Indigenous people included: health, including mental health, and if/how this is to be funded; education, including the need for self-determination in curriculum development, as a way out of current social conditions; economic development and empowerment, in particular looking at revenue sharing and taxation.
Community supports, more and better access to housing, legal standing, hunting, land claims, land ownership, land use, environment, protecting and promoting language, and child welfare were also listed as topics of discussion.
The week of Feb 19 saw discussion with policy and executive directors for Aboriginal groups, academics and professors, and people involved in the creation of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Discussion centered around legislation, the role of governments, models of governance, legal jurisdictions and implications, among others.