Quebec City was abuzz with politics July 15 as the city hosted the Canadian Premiers’ summit, hosted by Jean Charest, and The Assembly of First Nation’s Council of the Federation meeting.
The Kelowna Accord, the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights and ending Aboriginal poverty were the talk of both the Premiers’ meeting and the Council of the Federation meeting, but the question is whether the talk will ever turn to action.
Before both meetings formally began, five of the national chiefs, including Phil Fontaine of the AFN, had the opportunity to meet privately with the premiers. Reviving the Kelowna Accord was the main topic for discussion as was elevating the socio-economic status of the Aboriginal population.
Though the implementation of Kelowna could mean a world of difference to Canada’s First Peoples, Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, does not see it as something that would likely pass while the current Conservative minority is at the helm of the country.
In his mind, pushing Kelowna is futile as the Conservatives have already rejected it after they came into power. “It’s almost like beating a dead horse,” said Picard. “That is why we said when the apology came about on June 11, if it is not followed by concrete steps to elevate some of the conditions that we so often speak about then the apology itself doesn’t have real meaning.”
After both meetings adjourned, Harper made a commitment July 19 to hold a first ministers meeting this fall with the provinces and territories with Aboriginal issues on the agenda.
Another hot topic at the Council of the Federation meeting was Canada’s implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
Though a great deal is being done at both a national and international level to see the Declaration passed, so far the North West Territories is the only jurisdiction in Canada to have actual legislation for it.
“The pressure is still on and I think that we have not declared defeat,” said Picard, even though the AFN was hoping to come out of the meeting with a provincial government that would agree to lead the way on adopting motions of support for the Declaration.
At this point Picard is doubtful that Quebec’s National Assembly will ever adopt it. Even though letters have been exchanged and meetings have been held, listening and making the move to present a motion on the floor are two different things.
This coming fall the AFNQL will be granted a day of lobbying at the National Assembly where they hope to revive the issue and possibly make some headway.
Though health, education and social services are always on the table for discussion at the annual AFN meeting, Picards made his struggles with Bill 125, in particular, known at the assembly.
Last year Quebec passed Bill 125 to amend the Youth Protection Act, whereby children whose safety and development are still believed to be compromised following a temporary placement would be expedited into permanent placements in safe locations, possibly outside of their communities. For a child under two years old, the placement would happen after one year, two to five, after 18 months and after 24 months for children six years and older.
As of July 2008, the first placements began and while the AFNQL has been fighting the bill tooth and nail, the process has been difficult. The argument is that families on reserves have less access to the varieties of social services than the rest of the general population as they fall under federal funding through Indian and Northern Affairs.
“The federal government, which is supposed to be providing assistance to us in order for us to not only make interventions but also work on prevention which is not the case right now,” said Picard.
Picard met with Premier Jean Charest to discuss Bill 125 and was told that there was a provision in the law that could give First Nations the possibility of creating their own institutions. Having the actual monetary means to do so would be complicated as the funding is federal, however.
The AFNQL is presently meeting with an NGO on the Rights of the Child to see what chance they may have in repealing the bill because of the implications it would have on Aboriginal communities. They have filed for an inquiry with the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Quebec.
Should all else fail, the AFNQL may have no other choice but to contest the bill legally.
“It is a repeat of the residential school system to put it simply because you have children potentially not only being taken away from their families but from their communities and being placed permanently outside and without any liberty to come back to the community,” said Picard.