The third meeting under the AFN-Canada Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Joint Priorities took place March 26, 2018. The MOU calls for regular meetings to discuss key issues and assess progress on shared priorities and is not a decision-making forum. These meetings provide an opportunity for AFN leadership to engage with senior federal cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries in open, constructive dialogue to advance First Nations priorities.
Following an opening prayer discussion proceeded on the jointly developed agenda:
- Federal Budget 2018
- Co-development of an Indigenous Languages Act
- Closing the Gap: First Nations Child and Family Services, New Fiscal Relationship, First Nations Housing
- Policy Review: Specific Claims Policy, Additions to Reserve Policy
- Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework, Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Comprehensive Claims Policy, and Inherent Right to Self-Government Policy
- Next Steps
This Bulletin provides some highlights and key information from the discussion.
On the federal budget, AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde acknowledged that over the last three federal budgets provide investments of more than $16 Billion over 7 years for First Nations and Indigenous peoples. These unprecedented investments are a result of strong advocacy by the AFN under National Chief Bellegarde’s leadership. The National Chief stated the key is to get these resources to First Nations governments, communities and people effectively and efficiently so that they can make a real difference on the ground, in people’s lives. The resources provided to help close the gap in First Nations child welfare are welcome, though overdue.
Work on co-developing an Indigenous Languages Act is making progress. First Nations leadership called for more engagement. This is expected as part of the process, but it must be robust, comprehensive and reach the community level.
In the discussion around Closing the Gap Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) Minister Jane Philpott noted that funds for First Nations education will flow as a result of the current Memorandum to Cabinet process (see AFN Bulletin of November 2017, AFN Update on First Nations Education, available on the AFN website), including funding for First Nations language instruction on-reserve.
The Fiscal Relations work continues and has already resulted in helpful changes like the ability to carry over funding. Next steps include a move towards 10-year grants instead of unpredictable annual contribution agreements. There is potential for this to happen with some First Nation governments by April 2019. The National Chief wants the working table expanded to include Finance and Treasury Board.
On Housing, the ISC Minister noted the need for continued advocacy for more resources for First Nations housing. The Minister said that addressing First Nations housing needs requires not only more funding but also more support for innovation and First Nations-driven approaches. Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Ignace Gull spoke to the immediate need in his community for 350 homes, and issues around the land needed for housing.
AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart requested a detailed breakdown from the federal government on funding for First Nations child and family services, including amounts that will reach First Nations child welfare agencies directly. This information was not immediately available and there is a commitment to follow-up.
Regional Chief Kluane Adamek spoke about the need for an innovative approach to closing the gap in the North. She cited the Arctic Policy Framework as one current government initiative which has required a Northern distinctions-based approach.
First Nations policing was raised as an urgent matter, including the need for it to be deemed an essential service and funded as such. AFN Quebec-Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard stated that “public safety is an essential service” yet this does not seem to be the case for First Nations. The government was urged to finalize agreements with First Nations policing services before those agreements expire.
In the Legislative and Policy review discussion, the National Chief reiterated the need to reorient federal laws and policies so that they are based on rights recognition instead of termination. AFN Alberta Regional Chief Marlene Poitras noted the variability in implementing and communicating policy changes in the regions and called for more consistent information from the federal government on changes to the Additions to Reserve Policy.
National Chief Bellegarde spoke to the government’s announcement in February 2018, about working with Indigenous peoples to create a Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework. The National Chief stated concerns about the current approach to engagement, including a disconnect between the Prime Minister’s announcement and public information materials being used by the government.
The National Chief noted that timeframes the government has set for itself are very tight if the government is going to try to get legislation in place before the next election. The overriding priority must be getting this work right. It must not be rushed. Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould put forward her thoughts on potential elements: legislation must confirm the standards of rights as the basis for all decisions; it must establish new mechanisms to recognize Indigenous governments’ jurisdiction – that where an Indigenous government brings forward a vision, Canada must honour it; new tools necessary to support this work, such as new institutions and new ways to resolve disputes and avoid litigation, which should include Indigenous approaches; and substantive transformation to the Inherent Rights Policy and Claims Policy.
AFN Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day set out key areas for work, including Health transformation as a top priority for the ISC Minister. Regional Chief Day also spoke about the importance of Treaties and lands and resources.
The meeting closed with an agreement to identify a date for the next gathering.
The AFN is convening a Special Chiefs Assembly on May 1 & 2, 2018, in Gatineau, Quebec, to focus on federal legislation impacting First Nations. More information is available on the AFN website at www.afn.ca.