Since the Liberals took power in 2015, Ottawa has poured billions into programs and services for Indigenous peoples and vowed to “renew” the relationship. But many Indigenous leaders say there’s much more work to do
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets attendees at the closing ceremony marking the conclusion of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec on June 3, 2019. After two and a half years of hearings, a Canadian inquiry released its final report on the disappearance and death of hundreds, if not thousands of indigenous women, victims of endemic violence it controversially said amounted to “genocide.” – ANDREW MEADE , AFP/GETTY IMAGES
OTTAWA—It started with a promise.
Like so many before him, Justin Trudeau spoke to Canada’s Indigenous peoples last February, and vowed to do better. For too long, he said, Canada has failed. It has fallen short of its own Constitution, which enshrines Indigenous rights even as successive governments neglected to recognize them.
From the floor of the House of Commons, the prime minister pledged to change that. At long last, Ottawa would work with Canada’s Indigenous peoples — hundreds of First Nations, Métis nations, and Inuit peoples of the North — on a new relationship, one in which the federal government recognizes their rights in new legislation and dismantles the colonial dynamic that has been so damaging for so long.
In short, it was key to the reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous peoples that Trudeau and his Liberals have championed at every turn since they took power in 2015.
And it fell apart.
Protesters denounced the initiative in rallies across the country. The Assembly of First Nations charged the process was dictated by Ottawa and called for it to stop. It even caused a rift in Trudeau’s cabinet between then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and others, according to Canada’s former top bureaucrat. In the end, the promised legislation was shelved, and the government shifted to tinkering with internal policy and passing bills to support Indigenous languages and child welfare.
It’s just one chapter in the story of reconciliation over the past four years, a deep and complex challenge the Trudeau Liberals hoisted on their own shoulders through their words and actions in government. Billions have poured into infrastructure and social services, yet advocates and leaders say there are serious shortfalls. And while efforts to “renew” the relationship have been welcomed, many also doubt the government’s willingness to truly challenge the colonial foundations that have wreaked so much harm.
With less than three months before the next federal election, Indigenous leaders and policy experts say the prominence of reconciliation under this government has brought some positive changes, but also halting progress and disappointment.
“When we talk about the niceties of establishing and maintaining these respectful relationships, that also has to be married with tangible, substantive change,” said Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.
“So long as we have these massive inequalities, we can’t really begin to have that conversation of reconciliation.” SOURCE