Thank you, Chair.
I want to start by acknowledging that we are gathered here today on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples.
I know that this directly impacted many of you in the room today, as it impacted the communities you represent, and the lives of your constituents.
The conversations that happened in Smithers with Minister Bennett are a positive and vital step, but there's no doubt that there's more work to do, work that many of you in this room know well as members of this important parliamentary committee. There's a lot of work to be done in addressing the underlying concerns of the Wet'suwet'en and the resulting solidarity actions that took place across the country.
However, I'm glad that together we can demonstrate a peaceful, achievable resolution. I believe the easy way is not always the right way. Sometimes using force is a sign of weakness. Over the past few weeks, we've seen the result of ignorance, fear and lack of understanding in vitriolic messages and comments online, through stories of individuals being targeted in public and private, and we saw that not far from here in Ottawa. An indigenous youth group had to move their planned weekly gathering due to the receipt of a death threat.
I think this shows that we have a long way to go when it comes to learning the dark parts of the history of this unreconciled country and its peoples, and truly making an effort to learn from one another and listen.
I've said this before and I'll continue to say it: When we don't have an open and honest dialogue, we simply can't move forward together.
Consistent, open and respectful dialogue is paramount to achieve peace, cooperation and prosperity in this country for all peoples.
It's in this spirit of peace and co-operation that I gathered with members of the Kanyen’kehá:ka along the rail tracks in Tyendinaga, as members will know. We pursued an open dialogue and made concerted efforts to move towards a peaceful resolution. Modest but important progress was made through this dialogue.
However, there was an immense amount of suspicion towards my presence—fear it was a ruse and that the police would move in. It's not every day that people are surrounded by police, and the reactions are normal. Parts of the conversation with the leadership of the community, elders and community members, including women and children, were very difficult, very painful and very personal. Upsetting stories were shared about this country's troubling treatment of indigenous peoples.
These are very serious issues which demand our attention, and have demanded it for hundreds of years, and there's no place in this discussion for rhetoric and vitriol.
The question I have found myself asking in the last few weeks is this: are we going to do things the way we have always done them, which has brought us to this point in our relationship, or do we take a new approach that engages in a true government-to-government relationship?
My greatest challenge in the past month in particular, but in the relationship in general, is trust. It prevents the best and most well-thought-out initiatives from moving forward. It is clear that our work must earn that trust over time.
In looking towards building a better future where we earn that trust, I believe it's important to acknowledge the past. For almost 500 years, indigenous peoples have faced discrimination in every aspect of their lives. The Crown, in part, has prevented a true equal partnership from developing with indigenous peoples, imposing instead a relationship based on colonial, paternalistic ways of thinking and doing. This approach has resulted in a legacy of devastation, pain and suffering, and it's not acceptable.
Many of us know where this has gotten us: a broken child and family system where indigenous children up to the age of 14 make up over 50% of kids in foster care even though they represent 7.7% of all Canadian children; shocking rates of suicide among indigenous youth, causing untold pain and hurt that will plague families and communities for generations to come; untenable housing situations where water that is unsafe to drink or even bathe in comes out of the taps; and communities that don't have reliable access to roads, health centres, or even schools.
When we formed government 4 years ago, we made many significant promises including on some of these areas I just touched upon.
We have delivered on much of that but the most important lesson we learned was that everything has to be done in true partnership. That Canada will succeed when we follow the voices of those whom we have ignored and disrespected for far too long, and those who lead communities across this country.
We know that there is no quick fix for the decades of systemic discrimination that indigenous peoples in Canada have faced. But our government is committed to putting in the time, energy and resources to right past wrongs and build a better way forward for future generations.
We do our best to undertake this work in a way that departs from much of our shared history—a history in which the inherent rights, leadership and cultural vitality have not been respected as they should have been.
Our approach is founded on partnership and co-development and is anchored in listening to indigenous leaders, elders, youth and community members and working to support their attainment of their goals based on their priorities.
Since 2016, we've invested $21 billion in the priorities of indigenous partners, priorities that have been set by indigenous partners, and together we've made some progress, but we still have a long way to close the unacceptable socio-economic gap that exists between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
For hundreds of years, indigenous peoples have been calling on the Canadian government to recognize and affirm their jurisdiction over their own affairs, to have control and agency over their land, housing, education, governance system and child and family services. Self-determination improves the well-being and prosperity of indigenous communities, and that's something all Canadians should strive to support.
There is no question that self-determination is a better way forward.
Self-governing indigenous peoples have a proven track record of greater socio-economic success. More children are completing high school, fewer people are unemployed, and health outcomes are much better. Indigenous-led initiatives are more successful, as we have seen time and time again.
There is a critical need to support nation and community-led success in every indigenous community in Canada, not just in education, but also in health care, water and resource management, child and family services, in short, in all sectors.
This is why our government continues to work on shifting policies to recognize the inherent right of self-government for first nations, Inuit and Métis. That means moving to novel models of indigenous government and supporting indigenous communities to assert their rights.
We are working to support first nations to opt out of sections of the Indian Act in areas such as land, environment, resource management and elections. As an example, we're working with indigenous institutions in first nations to develop the tools they need to drive local economic development, empower their communities and promote prosperity.
Since 2019, nine first nations have begun operating under their community-ratified land codes through the framework agreement on first nations land management and the First Nations Land Management Act. In addition, 18 first nations have joined the 264 other first nations asserting jurisdiction in the area of fiscal governance by opting into the First Nations Fiscal Management Act.
Self-determination is key to unlocking economic potential, creating opportunities for growth and closing socio-economic gaps. We know that with advancing self-determination, the potential for success is enormous—success of indigenous peoples and, frankly, all of Canada.
To get there, we need to understand that recognizing and affirming rights is a first step in finding a way forward. We need to support indigenous partners to identify our challenges and then we need to rise to those challenges. Finally, we need to recognize that the most important actions we can take are to listen to the hard truths, embrace change and welcome creative ideas. A transformation like that will take determination, persistence, patience and truth telling.
The work ahead of us will be difficult. As I mentioned, this path will require a lot from us. We will have to work in true partnership and listen, even when the truth will be hard to hear. We will have to continue to communicate, even when we disagree. We will need to continue to collaborate and look for creative ways to move forward, as well as new paths to healing and true understanding.
We've all seen what happens when we fail to maintain dialogue. This leads to mistrust and confusion, which can cause conflict and hinder our common journey. I want to be clear: it is up to the rights holders to determine who speaks for them about their indigenous rights and title. We will continue to work toward continuing these conversations. Despite all these challenges, I know that the hard work ahead of us is well worth the effort.
Together, we can build a better Canada, and that's what we're going to do. It will be a country in which healthy, prosperous and self-reliant indigenous nations will be key partners. We have the opportunity to learn from our shared history, to share our pain and even our joy, and to do the work that will result in a country where everyone can succeed.
I look forward to working with my colleagues on all sides to realize this essential work and enormous potential. It requires the participation of all Canadians.
I look forward to answering any questions you may have.