Federal parties pitch plans for Indigenous reconciliation

According to the last census there are more than 11,000 people living across the North Shore’s three electoral districts who identified as Aboriginal, each probably with their own ideas about what the next federal government needs to do to advance reconciliation.

For David Kirk, Indigenous faculty adviser for Capilano University, reconciliation is a matter of life and death. According to 2018 stats from the province, the average life expectancy for Status First Nations is 75.1 years, compared to 83.3 years for other residents.

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“The government has a fiduciary responsibility to provide health care for us. It’s not happening,” he said.

Indigenous people are also being held back for lack of access to education, Kirk added.

“There’s this myth in Canadian society that Indigenous people all have a free education and that’s so far from the truth,” he said. “In order for us to make meaningful change within our communities, whether we like it or not, we have to be educated.”

Candidates for the Greens, Liberals and NDP in all three North Shore ridings are committing to adopting the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, implementing all of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, and calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

But North Vancouver Conservative Andrew Saxton said his government would focus on economic reconciliation, specifically when it comes to natural resources.

“We have an obligation to consult with First Nations on natural resource projects that affect their land and we also want them to be part of it and benefit from this, and be part of the decision making process from the beginning. Not halfway through,” he said, noting the cancelled Northern Gateway Pipeline as an example. “The government must act to empower Indigenous communities to share in the wealth of Canada because they deserve to be partners.”

The Conservative platform promises to appoint a new minister for consulting Indigenous rights holders and $10 million per year to foster collaboration between First Nations and natural resource companies. It also calls for a review of the Indian Act to modernize First Nations governance.

“We need meaningful change, not just public statements,” Saxton said, noting it was the previous Conservative government that launched the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and formally apologized to First Nations in Parliament.

Burnaby North-Seymour Liberal incumbent Terry Beech said the election of the Liberals in 2015 was a turning point in the relationship between the government and First Nations compared to the 150 years before.

In the last term, the government settled 100 land claims and got 87 Indigenous communities off boil water advisories at a cost of about $2 billion, and the remaining reserves are on pace to have clean water flowing by 2021, Beech said. But, he added, the government has been investing in all manner of infrastructure.

“We’re talking water, we’re talking housing, we’re talking roads, we’re talking high-speed internet, schools and health care,” he said.

The Liberal platform promises culturally relevant health care, including $200 million up front for substance abuse treatment, $118 million in mental health services.

Beech said his government is committed to transitioning away from the Indian Act to more self-determination for First Nations and, as parliamentary secretary, every piece of environmental legislation passed was made with Indigenous groups at the table.

“I just want to make sure we don’t turn back the clock and eliminate all the significant progress we’ve made over the last four years,” he said.

The Green Party meanwhile say it’s time for Canada to adopt a new model entirely, with a new council of Canadian governments, for the feds, the provinces and territories, First Nations and municipalities to meet and co-ordinate and understand the interconnectedness of any policy at any level.

“It starts with a reset in the relationship between First Nations and the rest of Canada as a country,” said Dana Taylor, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country candidate.

The Green Party is calling for a tribunal specifically to facilitate land and title claims, which Taylor said would be an improvement on the “tit for tat” back and forth in the court system.

“We all have something to gain. This is not a loss thing. It may have a cost to it but this is something that I think is fundamental to the healing that will make this country whole. It’s joining ourselves with the people who were here first to better, together, move forward,” he said.

As a family lawyer in Sechelt, West Vancouver NDP candidate Judith Wilson said she has first-hand experience helping residential school survivors in the shíshálh Nation and has seen the harm shortfalls in funding can bring.

“It’s clear to me that respect is the beginning,” she said. “It’s not enough just to enact legislation saying you’re going to do something. You have to follow through.”

Wilson said over-representation of Indigenous people in the justice system needs Indigenous-led reforms, which she said would probably mean more restorative justice in the courts and less use of imprisonment.

Wilson said she was horrified by news the Liberals filed for a judicial review of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling ordering the government to compensate children taken from their homes under the on-reserve child welfare system, which was found to be discriminatory.

“It’s like, haven’t we learned? Aren’t we willing, ever, to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions?” she said. “This is not just about throwing resources at that community. … I think they have a major contribution to make as we develop ourselves to be diverse, culturally sensitive people that we want to be.”

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