First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders will sit down with the Prime Minister at least once a year to discuss ways to improve the relationship between Canada and its indigenous people under new proposals for reconciliation announced by the Liberal government.
Justin Trudeau emerged from meeting with the heads of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Manitoba Métis Federation on Thursday to commit to the annual meetings and to two other initiatives aimed at heeding the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which examined abuses at Indian Residential Schools.
"What is needed is a national strategy to advance long-term reconciliation," Mr. Trudeau said. "We have taken significant measures concretely to build solutions and partnerships with indigenous communities but we know that it's not just about immediate band-aids and immediate quick fixes."
The Prime Minister promised to meet with each of the three groups every year to develop shared priorities and to monitor progress. In addition, he said, similar meetings with key cabinet ministers will take place at least twice a year.
Mr. Trudeau said he would establish of a national council for reconciliation to address the remaining TRC recommendations. And he said the government will provide $10-million to support the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba which was established to ensure that the history and legacy of Canada's residential school system is remembered.
One year ago, when the final report of the TRC was made public, Mr. Trudeau said his government would act on those Calls to Action that fall within federal purview.
Some progress has been made since then. For example, the government has endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it has called an inquiry into the disproportionate number of missing and murdered indigenous women, and, last week, Mr. Trudeau announced he would introduce a new law to protect indigenous languages.
Murray Sinclair, the head of the TRC who is now a senator, said in a statement that he is pleased with what has been accomplished so far and with the commitments made Thursday by Mr. Trudeau.
"But we remain concerned that the government response to some Calls to Action have lost sight of what the Commission hoped to achieve," Mr. Sinclair said. "These include such things as the repeal of Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada to address violence against children, sustainable funding for healing to address the long-term and intergenerational impacts of residential schools, the creation of a Royal Proclamation and the development of a Covenant of Reconciliation."
The indigenous leaders who met with Mr. Trudeau were mostly eager to praise the actions of the Prime Minister and his government.
Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the promise of the regular meetings with the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers is "key" to making progress on policy and legislation, especially as it related to constitutional issues and the UN declaration. "We see things moving," said Mr. Bellegarde, "not as effectively and efficiently as can be done within 12 months, but we know there's a strategy and plan moving forward."
David Chartrand, the president of the Manitoba Métis Federation which won a long-running case this year when the Supreme Court declared that Métis and non-status Indians are "Indians" within the meaning of Canada's 1867 Constitution, said meeting with Mr. Trudeau felt like finally being allowed in your house after being locked out for 10 years.
And Natan Obed, the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said the government is showing leadership in reconciliation. "The ongoing maturation of the relationship between indigenous right holders, Inuit, Métis and First Nations and the Crown, is appreciated."