In late August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a significant cabinet shuffle that will see Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) split into two departments. Former Health Minister Jane Philpott becomes Minister of Indigenous Services while former INAC Minister Carolyn Bennett becomes Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. I recognize this move by the Trudeau government as strategic and workable, as we have many ongoing priorities that must be transitioned in a responsible manner. Ministers Philpott and Bennett have my full support in these critical months ahead leading into the next federal mandate.
I acknowledge Minister Philpott’s strong humanitarian values and the close working relationship that I had with her on the national health file for the last two years. I look forward to continuing that relationship in her new role. The work of Minister Bennett over the past two years has greatly renewed the relationship between Canada and First Nations while setting the path forward for true Reconciliation. I acknowledge and thank Dr. Bennett for her contributions and ongoing efforts for Ontario First Nations.
However, both ministers have allowed the bureaucracy to drag their heels on complying with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling to provide equal funding to First Nation children in need of medical care. This is a shameful situation that would not be tolerated by First Nation leadership and mainstream Canadians. At the same time, our chiefs have seen little or no improvement with respect to the delivery services and response to critical needs.
Since last year, I have spoken at a number of governance events with both federal and provincial bureaucrats. Here is an excerpt from one of those speeches:
Rebuilding and repairing the nation-to-nation relationship is not simply a matter of clawing our way to the top of federal and provincial budget cycles, year in and year out.
Drastic changes must be made in the current relationship, beginning with making the current bureaucracy responsible and responsive to our needs. We can no longer be treated like second- or third-class citizens.
We will no longer tolerate the adversarial approach that still seems to dominate the bureaucratic mindset.
We must finally become equal partners in this 150-year-old confederation that began with four provinces in 1867. We must finally restore the Treaty relationship when we were treated as equals with the newcomers 250 years ago.
A significant step towards restarting the relationship begins with breaking the cycle of poverty by establishing long-term sustainable funding. It begins with breaking the cycle of dependence by moving toward self-government and self-sustaining economies. Today, we are still in the process of internally rebuilding our organizations – whether it be the Assembly of First Nations; the Chiefs of Ontario; Nishnawbe Aski Nation; the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians; and so on, right across the country.
Once we are able to effectively engage both the federal and provincial governments, renewal of the nation-to-nation relationship will progress at a rapid pace over the coming months and years. I remain confident that this current federal government is committed to following through on its mandate with Indigenous Peoples. But we need the bureaucracy to act at the speed of 21st century “deliver-ology” – not at the pace of 19th century colonialism.
I believe this cabinet shuffle is not only a sign that the federal government is serious on following through with its mandate to improve the relationship with Indigenous Peoples.
It is a significant step towards what we all want – happy, healthy self-sustaining and self-governing communities. Now we must work together to make this happen for the sake of our children.
ISADORE DAY, Wiindawtegowinini, is Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief.