by Xavier Kataquapit
Now that he is in power, the big question is what a majority Liberal government headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will really mean for First Nations across the country. The good news is that out of 18 Indigenous candidates the Liberals put forth, eight won seats. The New Democratic Party elected two Indigenous candidates and the Conservatives, who at one point had four Indigenous MPs, elected none this time around.
Assembly Of First Nations à National Chief Perry Bellegrade, Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Muskegowuk Grand Chief Jonathon Solomon all have expressed a sense of hope about working with the new Liberal government. First Nation political organizations, tribal councils and communities across the country are looking forward to a better relationship. Most have dealt with funding cuts even as the Conservative government directed money to Canada’s wealthiest, increased subsidies for big business and fought expensive wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
The new Liberal government made many promises to Indigenous people. Trudeau committed to an inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women, fixing the infrastructure causing boil water advisories in First Nations communities, adding $2.6 billion to education funding and creating a new era of trust with Indigenous people. First Nations leadership is also looking for substantial housing solutions and efforts to combat teen suicide.
The last time the Liberals held power under Paul Martin, Indigenous, federal and provincial leaders signed on to the Kelowna Accord. The 2005 accord promised a $5 billion investment in Indigenous communities and programs. The accord died when the Conservatives took power in January 2006.
Relations with First Nation leadership deteriorated under the Conservatives. An AFN analysis determined that, in recent years, Aboriginal organizations faced $60 million in cuts. Inuit organizations were hardest hit, with 71% of funding cuts between 2012 and 2015. First Nations organizations saw their overall funding, including core and project-based funding, drop from $69 million to $24 million. Métis organizations suffered 39% in cuts. Non-status Indian organizations were cut 14% and women’s organizations were cut 7%.
The Harper government worked to silence First Nations organizations in their advocacy efforts, slashing funding for regional and national bodies by up to 91 per cent.
The Idle No More movement sprung up in reaction to the Conservative assaults, including the removal of protections for forests and waterways.
Bill C-45 eliminated an extensive approval and consultation process before construction of any kind could take place in or around navigable waters. Most waterways would no longer receive the same protection, a shocking development for First Nation people. Many of these waterways still are an important part of their cultural and traditional lives. First Nation leadership expects the Liberal government to fix this legislation so that the Aboriginal people and all Canadians can be sure that our waterways are protected.
Another contentious bill, the Anti-terrorism Act, was passed last June 9. Bill C-51 provides for more power to security agencies and police while reducing the rights of citizens in general. One of the major concerns by rights advocates and First Nation leadership is that those who protest government policy or projects could be considered as terrorists. First Nation people across the country often protest controversial development on traditional lands and waterways. Although the Liberals supported this legislation they did so while promising to revisit it and amend it if elected. First Nation leadership will no doubt be looking for Prime Minister Trudeau to revisit this legislation. Trudeau has the mandate to get the country back on track and now all he has to do is get busy to make that happen.