Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good afternoon, everyone.
I would like to start by acknowledging that we are meeting here on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
Thank you very much for the invitation to speak today on Bill C-262. I will be focusing my comments on giving an update on the Government of Canada's efforts to ensure we're not hindering the implementation of indigenous rights, which include work to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. At its core, the declaration affirms that indigenous peoples have the right to live, develop, and thrive according to their unique circumstances and priorities, that is, to determine their futures for themselves.
We've long worked to advance self-determination and improve indigenous well-being. For over 30 years now, there have been efforts driven by and grounded in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which section recognizes and affirms indigenous rights.
For example, the ongoing negotiation of modern treaties and self-government agreements advances the implementation of articles 3, 4 and 5 of the United Nations Declaration, which affirm the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination and self-government.
Since 2015 we have also been engaged in recognition of indigenous rights and self-determination discussions. Through these discussions we have sat down with indigenous groups based on how they want to organize themselves and start from a place of recognizing their rights. We have ongoing rights recognition discussions with communities, travel councils, historic treaty groups, and Métis organizations, as well as other community-based organizations that are coming together to rebuild their nations on their terms.
Through these discussions we are exploring shared priorities that our indigenous partners raise. We come to the table without predetermined mandates and we work together to chart a path forward to achieving the outcomes that matter to indigenous communities. We are striving to build flexible arrangements, support indigenous communities in achieving self-determination on their terms that can evolve along with our relationships. Through this innovative process we are living out our commitment to co-development, which is reflected in article 18's declaration that indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making about matters affecting their rights through their own representatives.
Working with self-determined groups to advance shared priorities, including nation building and governance, also responds to articles 3 and 9, which assert the rights of indigenous peoples to determine and belong to their own communities, nations, and political entities.
The declaration also makes repeated calls to respect the principle of free, prior and informed consent when making decisions that affect indigenous peoples.
Consistent with these calls, both section 35 and the duty to consult serve to protect indigenous rights from crown action, and reconcile the rights of indigenous peoples with those of wider society.
We still have work to do to implement the full scope of free, prior, and informed consent. Canada has established a whole-of-government approach to these obligations in response to court decisions and best practices established by federal departments and agencies to meet their specific needs.
These are just a few examples of the many ways that our work has been advancing and continues to advance the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
More recently the Government of Canada has taken bold new steps to lead collaborative efforts that support indigenous peoples' treaty rights and their inherent rights as recognized in section 35, while also meeting the objectives outlined in the UN declaration.
On February 14, the Prime Minister announced that the Government of Canada will develop a recognition and implementation of indigenous rights framework in full partnership with first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
To truly renew the relationship between Canada and indigenous people, the Government of Canada will make the recognition and implementation of rights the basis for all relations between indigenous peoples and the federal government.
This is at the heart of what the UN declaration aims to achieve, and the declaration is a foundational piece upon which we build the framework. While our work to date has gone considerable distances toward implementing elements of the declaration, we know that more work is required. The framework for the recognition and implementation of indigenous rights will provide the mechanisms necessary for all federal departments to fulfill the commitment to recognizing and implementing rights, facilitating a whole-of-government approach grounded in law and policy.
To determine the contents of the framework, Minister Bennett is leading a national engagement with first nations, Inuit, and Métis partners with a particular focus on women, youth, and elders. The engagement will also include industry, the general public, and our provincial and territorial partners to support a pan-Canadian commitment to the recognition and implementation of indigenous rights.
Make no mistake though, our partners in this process are the rights holders, not the stakeholders.
We will work in partnership with indigenous peoples to determine the shape of a renewed crown-indigenous relationship.
Through this process we are putting into practice Bill C-262's call to work in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples to implement their rights in Canadian law. What we are learning through engagement also builds on existing sources of knowledge such as the Report of the Royal Commission on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Penner report, and the tireless work of many indigenous advocates.
To use the language of Bill C-262, this is our “national action plan” for advancing indigenous rights and achieving the objectives of the declaration. Based on early feedback, the recognition and implementation of an indigenous rights framework may include a number of elements such as: legislation to formalize the standard of recognition of indigenous rights as the basis for all government relations with indigenous people; a new policy that reflects the unique needs of first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples to replace the current comprehensive land claims policy and the inherent right policy; reforming government policies and practices to support the implementation of treaties and self-government agreements; mechanisms to support the rebuilding of indigenous nations and governments and advance indigenous self-determination and the inherent right of self-government; creating new dispute resolution approaches to address rights-related issues, including overlapping territories, treaty implementation, and historic grievances, that move us from conflict to collaboration; tools to strengthen a culture of federal government accountability and to build greater trust between indigenous peoples and the federal government; and legislation to replace Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada with two new departments that will better serve the distinct needs of first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
These likely components represent preliminary thinking on what shape the framework will take but respond directly to key elements of the declaration. The goal is to chart a new way forward for the Government of Canada to work with first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and to end decades of mistrust, broken promises, poverty, and injustice.
Working together with first nations, Inuit, and Métis partners to define how we recognize and implement indigenous rights in federal law and policy is vital to overcoming the legacy of colonialism and re-building indigenous nations and governments. This transformative shift in our relationship will not happen overnight. We are working towards a longer term vision for a better Canada in which healthy, prosperous, self-determining, and self-governing indigenous nations are key partners.
This goal is echoed in Bill C-262, which will support us on the road to making the vision of the UN declaration a reality and fulfilling the promise of section 35.
We are committed to delivering real results that improve indigenous well-being and bring Canadians together in a more just society, so that we can continue on in our journey towards reconciliation.
I look forward to answering any questions you may have.