OTTAWA – A group of highly influential and distinguished Canadians from a broad cross section of the political and corporate elite have come together to encourage Canada to strengthen its partnerships with Aboriginal people across the county, thereby aiming to strengthen Canada as a whole.
The core group includes former prime ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark along with former premier Bob Rae, former auditor general Sheila Fraser, Justice Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Aboriginal leaders Ovide Mercredi, Phil Fontaine, Mary Simon and Sheila Watt-Cloutier, among others.
According to their website, “Canadians for a New Partnership is built on the principle that Indigenous and other Canadians can together build a strong economy and values-based society that will benefit present and future generations. It is a principle shared by a growing number of other Canadians from all walks of life, including churches, businesses, academia and the public service. The overriding mission is to build a better and stronger Canada, and many are signing their name to a declaration, pledging to do so.”
The concept for Canadians for a New Partnership was first advanced by Stephen Kakfwi, a former premier of the Northwest Territories, and President of the NWT Dene Nation, who was inspired by a challenge from his young, adult children. “Following the Idle No More movement I expressed to my adult children the urgent need for a renewed Nation-to-Nation relationship, built upon mutual respect and understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments and people across Canada. Without any hesitation, they challenged me to take the initiative and I began making calls to former leaders of all political stripes and backgrounds and was surprised and gratified by the very immediate and positive responses.” In the following months an impressive number of prominent Canadians agreed to join in this national initiative.
Canadians for a New Partnership openly acknowledges that the relationship between Indigenous People and mainstream Canada “has reached a critical turning point.”
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy supports the Canadians for a New Partnership announcement made last week by former Prime Ministers and First Nation leaders calling it a vital step forward in beginning a new dialogue among Canadians that will raise an awareness of First Nation priorities.
“This partnership, with the right direction and momentum, can be very successful in improving our understanding of each other and working towards reconciliation,” Chief Beardy said. “In our initiatives at the Chiefs of Ontario, we attempt to build bridges that will work towards a new understanding, one that will reflect our shared responsibility and provide an honest narrative on First Nations issues. This dialogue and these partnerships are vital to moving forward in a positive way, because if Canadians don’t really know anything about First Nations peoples, how can they support them?”
Membership into the organization is volunteer based and its spokespeople will attend speaking events, conferences and lecture series across the country to promote their vision and to help offer Canadians a new narrative, a compelling rationale, and opportunities for action with the goal of igniting and sustaining momentum towards reconciliation and partnership; “In doing so we will strive to actively demonstrate to governments and industry the growing broad-based desire for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians to work together to build a stronger economy and values-based society.”
Although many high profile Canadians as well as Onkwehonwe leaders applaud and hold out hope that the Canadians for a New Partnership will move forward the stagnant and confrontational relationship between Onkwehon:we and mainstream Canada, others are not so sure. Some recoil from the reference of being included as Canadians, in the organizations materials.
Mi’kmaw lawyer Pam Palmater, who ran for National Chief of the AFN last election, is troubled by the emphasis being places on extraction of resources from traditional territories.
Siku Allooloo of Fort Smith asked “Why’s money always the basis of ‘new relationships’ with Canada? What about recovering our autonomy, land & the bases of our nationhood?” Gwitchin laywer Kris Statnyk said he hopes “free prior and informed consent” are part of the values subscribed to by the organization in its pursuit of a stronger economy.
Paul Martin, in particular, has been openly critical of how the present government is dealing with, or rather, not dealing with, Native issues since leaving the political forum in 2006, and has been calling for meaningful and mutually acceptable changes in that relationship.