Update on Speech from the Throne – National Chief Perry Bellegarde

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde

  • The recent Throne Speech included a number of commitments to First Nations consistent with the AFN’s advocacy document Honouring Promises. It was the first Throne Speech to contain a specific section on “reconciliation.”
  •  The AFN and the National Chief will work with all parties on an ambitious agenda to build a stronger country for everyone through the implementation of First Nations rights, title, Treaties and jurisdiction.

by AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde
OTTAWA – On December 5, 2019, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, delivered the Speech from the Throne to open the 43rd session of Parliament and outline the Government’s agenda.

The Speech included, for the first time, a specific section on Indigenous commitments entitled “Walking the Road to Reconciliation.” The section – and other parts of the speech – mirrored many of the priorities set out in the AFN’s Honouring Promises advocacy document, issued prior to the 2019 federal election. The commitments include:

  • action on climate change, including a commitment to the target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050;
  • action to co-develop and introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the first year of the new mandate;
  • new steps to ensure the Government is living up to the spirit and intent of Treaties, agreements, and other constructive arrangements made with Indigenous Peoples;
  • continuing work on safe drinking water and eliminating all long-term drinking water advisories by 2021;
  • implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls;
  • a promise to close the gap in infrastructure by 2030;
  • continue to invest in Indigenous priorities, in collaboration with Indigenous partners; and,
  • ensure that Indigenous children and youth who were harmed under the discriminatory child welfare system are compensated in a way that is both fair and timely

All of these commitments are important and, where necessary, we will work to get more details on the next steps and ensure that First Nations are involved in initiatives that have the potential to affect our lands, our lives and our rights.

I am encouraged by many of these commitments. First Nations declared a climate emergency in 2019 and there are many resolutions over the years calling for action on climate destruction. We are the first to feel the impacts, and we are first in leading the way to a cleaner, greener environment and economy. We must be directly involved in developing and implementing Canada’s climate plan.

Legislation on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a top priority. It will guide our work in so many other important areas. It is unfinished business from the last Parliament. The Liberals, NDP, the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois committed to it in their campaigns so there is majority support for the legislation. We will get it done. We are already working with all parties in the House of Commons to advance this initiative. Advancing our rights is paramount. We will move on the critical work of giving life to the spirit and intent of the Treaties and our original nation-to-nation relationship of partnership, respect, mutual recognition and sharing.

The commitment to child welfare is something we will watch closely. We want to see a related commitment from Canada to honour the rulings of the Human Rights Tribunal. We will push the government for full support and resources to implement the laws that impact the well-being of our children – the Indigenous Languages Act and the Indigenous Child Welfare Act.  A distinct First Nations approach, as determined by Rights Holders, to implement Bill C92 is the only approach that respects the Inherent Right of First Nations over children and families.

The Throne Speech highlighted some of the past successes of the government, many of which are the result of strong leadership and advocacy by First Nations. These include the elimination of 87 long-term drinking water advisories, more equitable funding for First Nations K-12 education, and the completion of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. I commend you for your leadership, support and advocacy.

The AFN outlined its priorities Honouring Promises, which can be found here.

As National Chief, I look forward to working with you as we maintain momentum and progress on an ambitious agenda to make a stronger country for all of us through the implementation of First Nations rights, title, Treaties and jurisdiction.