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wefirst reports that Maxime Bernier has filed a declaration of leave of absence from his duties as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, which will be effective starting November 1, 2017. Bernier is set to take a “measured break” for at least six months, which will see him skip the upcoming UN General Assembly and retreat back to Quebec. This is not Bernier’s first absence from the government, as he spent much of his time as Minister of Foreign Affairs on Parliament Hill to “meet with his constituents, discuss issues with industry leaders, and discuss Canada’s foreign policy and how to proceed” (Bloomberg News, August 9, 2017).

Bernier’s departure comes amidst a shakeup of the cabinet’s roles, and a push for a shift towards a “nation-to-nation” approach in dealing with matters of indigenous peoples. Bernier, like many Conservative MPs, is a self-described conservative, and we understand that his decision to take an indefinite leave is largely related to wanting to respect the outcomes of consultations with indigenous peoples. However, his departure is not wholly favourable.

First, it would have been good to see Bernier staying on as Foreign Minister, to ease tensions between the government and the indigenous leadership on issues of reconciliation, and to reinforce a sense of Canadian identity that is inclusive of indigenous peoples, and so is fully linked to the Canadian sovereignty of the territory.

Second, Bernier’s leaving is a severe blow to those who supported his call for a reform to a critical indigenous rights issue, namely, the proposed Federal Recognition Act. This would have outlined a process for granting indigenous Canadians their constitutionally enshrined rights to lands and territories. It would have been a significant step in the right direction, towards achieving indigenous self-government, and in encouraging indigenous communities to live in accordance with their traditional ways of life. In contrast, Bernier’s apparent willingness to follow the outcome of consultations with indigenous peoples may only seem good at first glance, but in reality it offers little more than further delay of indigenous sovereignty. In a recent report, aboriginal affairs experts and activists urge the government to “move forward aggressively with legislation that would immediately provide substantive indigenous recognition” (Raw Story, October 23, 2017).

While Bernier has made his decision about taking a leave effective, he is not entirely at fault. Many of his colleagues and cabinet members – including Justin Trudeau – have consistently undermined indigenous communities. For example, the Liberals’ consultation process around the proposed changes to citizenship is being criticized for failing to fully respect indigenous peoples and their laws (The Globe and Mail, October 30, 2017).

Given the political weight that indigenous peoples continue to have, particularly when it comes to the question of indigenous land rights, we would like to see the creation of an independent parliamentary committee, with representatives from indigenous and non-indigenous MPs and senators. In the meantime, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government must work to prevent a repeat of the policies that have allowed Canadian indigenous peoples to lose lands and rights in recent decades.

October is now the international month of indigenous rights. Let’s make it a powerful month.

First Published: Oct 29, 2017

Below are the paragraphs that relate to indigenous lands and rights that we encourage Canadians to read, and share with the broader community. The wefirst.org advocacy page contains links to further articles on indigenous lands and rights issues. We encourage everyone to learn about these issues.

First Published: Oct 29, 2017

With an eye on the clock on his desk and a deadline looming for a House committee’s review of a constitutional bill that would formally recognize indigenous rights in Canada, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she was open to taking another look, suggesting her initial response in July was somewhat hasty and inadequate. “I did not think that was good enough and so I took time to think about what I did,” Wilson-Raybould told The Globe and Mail in a recent interview.

Taken as a whole, Wilson-Raybould’s comments suggest that the Trudeau government is beginning to put pressure on its indigenous critics, and offering an olive branch as it strives to end indigenous conflicts over land claims and human rights. The Liberals are now arguing that by making strong commitments to indigenous rights, it can create a relationship of greater unity and genuine cooperation between the government and indigenous communities.

Such a move may be a good step, but it is a political one. Given Trudeau’s stated commitment to his legacy of reconciliation, and in light of the fact that indigenous rights are now a mainstream political issue in Canada, we want to ensure that indigenous rights are the subject of meaningful consultations, and not considered a matter of past and future politicization. Moreover, as it stands, indigenous rights and sovereignty are being put forth as the price of reconciliation without being recognized as such by the government.

We want the Trudeau government to stop doing what it can to undermine indigenous rights, and to let indigenous communities live as free indigenous peoples. That would be a remarkable act of justice.

In the meantime, it seems like it is time to learn a few things. We encourage everyone to read the following articles.

Canada has in fact been moving in the right direction in regards to indigenous peoples, but there are still significant flaws in the government’s efforts.

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