OTTAWA — Traditionally, every new session of the Canadian Parliament opens with a Speech from the Throne in which the Prime Minister lays out in very broad terms the goals, initiatives and direction of the upcoming sessions. The speech, although prepared by the PM, is read by the Governor General on his behalf.
This year, of course, was the first Speech from the Throne under new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
Many of the campaign promises were reiterated by Trudeau from the Sir John A. Macdonald Building in Ottawa before Friday’s opening of the 42nd Parliament.
Multi-disciplinary artist David Charette, originally from the Wiwemikong Unceded Reserve (located on Manitoulin Island in Ontario) performed an Indigenous honour song for Their Excellencies the Governor General of Canada the Right Honourable David Johnston and Mrs. Sharon Johnston, Prime Minister Trudeau and Mrs. Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, and other members of the Vice-Regal party.
Although the speech was short by former Prime Minister’s standards — a mere 1,800 words — it contained his government’s need for “nation-to-nation” relations with Indigenous peoples within Canada.
In particular, he promised on Friday to move ahead on adopting the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation commission which resulted from the examined effects of a longstanding policy that forced indigenous children into government-funded boarding schools, a system it called “cultural genocide.”
That included the formation of an inquiry panel to investigate why a disproportionately large number of indigenous women are murdered or go missing, improving the level of health care in native communities, powers of native groups and the recognition of indigenous laws.
Also, to jointly develop with indigenous peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown. The proclamation would build on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764, and reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between indigenous peoples and the Crown.
The TRC recommendations also calls Canada and the provinces to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over indigenous peoples and lands, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, and to reform those laws, government policies, and litigation strategies that continue to rely on such concepts.
Many of the TRC’s recommendations echoes those of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
They include, respecting Indigenous peoples’ right to self- determination in spiritual matters, including the right to practice, develop, and teach their own spiritual and religious traditions, customs, and ceremonies.
Another important shift in the relationship is a call to all religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.
An issue the former Harper Conservatives have avoided throughout its 11-year term, that being the revelation of the buried remains and information on missing children from residential school system, is to be brought to light.
Still other areas of Canada’s promised renaissance related to its relationship with Onkwehonwe people cover areas such as Child Welfare, Education, Language and Culture, Health, Justice, Equality for Indigenous People in the Legal System, Youth Programs, and more.
“Canadians have been clear and unambiguous in their desire for real change,” Mr. Johnston told a joint session of the House of Commons and the Senate. “Canadians want their government to do different things, and to do things differently.”
Other mainstream issues to be adjusted were included as well. A “typical” family of four will receive an extra $2,500 tax-free annually.
Canadians “want leadership that is focused on the things that matter most to them,” said Governor General Johnston, the Queen’s representative in Canada. “Things like growing the economy, creating jobs, strengthening the middle class, and helping those working hard to join it. … This is the fair thing to do, and the smart thing to do for Canada’s economy.”
Trudeau underscored his plan to roll back many measures introduced by Stephen Harper over the past decade.
Trudeau affirmed the government’s commitment to admit 25,000 refugees from Syria by the end of February.
The speech said the government would seek to rebuild relations with “our closest friend and partner, the United States,” a relationship that was strained under Mr. Harper.
Words are cheap, but in this case encouraging and it will take the AFN, and other Indigenous representatives to keep the Trudeau government’s feet to the fire to follow through with concrete action.