Reconciliation with the country’s First Nations is more likely to happen with federal political parties cooperating under the Liberal minority government, the grand chief of Canada’s Assembly of First Nations (AFN) said Oct. 29.
“With a minority government, there’s more opportunity to advance issues,” Perry Bellegarde said. “There’s more opportunity for collaborative government.”
He said endorsement of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by Canada, as well as other levels of government, would move multiple issues – including trade – forward.
Bellegarde tipped his hat to B.C.’s NDP government and Premier John Horgan for making B.C. the first jurisdiction to move to endorse UNDRIP with legislation introduced last week.
“He’s leading the way,” Bellegarde told attendees at a Greater Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon. “Hopefully, other premiers will pay attention.”
The UN’s General Assembly adopted the declaration in 2007. It says, among other things, that indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination, a term covering the right to determine political status and to pursue their own economic, social and cultural development.
It’s part of being at the table, Bellegarde explained.
He said supporting the UN declaration “will bring about economic certainty.”
That, he said, means being part of discussions on issues such as oil and gas.
“The pipeline will go ahead,” Bellegarde said, noting there were Trans Mountain pipeline officials in the crowd, adding many First Nations support the twinning project between Alberta and Burnaby.
“It’s the rights and titleholders that will make the decision,” he said.
However, Bellegarde was very clear on the need to work together to combat climate change.
“Moving toward a clean and green environment is important,” he said. “There’s something happening in the world, and it’s because of climate change. The whole environment is waking up and saying something is wrong.
“It’s really climate destruction. It’s the number one issue.”
He also acknowledged there is concern that a shift from fossil fuels will lead to a loss of jobs. He stressed the need for transition to lessen the blow of change.
“There are jobs to be made,” he said. “This green economy is not out of reach, but we have to reach for it.
“There is only one planet and we have a responsibility to make sure there’s something for seven generations down the road.”
The grand chief was also very clear that Canada needs to move on from the Indian Act and from some of the scars it left, such as the residential schools.
Bellegarde said the AFN’s priorities can be found in the recently released Honouring Promises report.