No sooner was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sworn in on November 4 than he named the most diverse cabinet in Canadian history, including two indigenous people, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Hunter Tootoo, as Justice Minister and Fisheries and Oceans Minister, respectively.
Trudeau also named Carolyn Bennett, who had been aboriginal affairs critic for the Liberal Party when Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in power, as Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs—the department itself renamed from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. On November 13 Trudeau released the letters of mandate that he had sent to each of his cabinet members.
To Bennett he issued sweeping directives that encompass everything from a missing and murdered women inquiry to health and nutrition.
“As Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, your overarching goal will be to renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples,” Trudeau wrote. “This renewal must be a nation-to-nation relationship, based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. I expect you to re-engage in a renewed nation-to-nation process with Indigenous Peoples to make real progress on the issues most important to First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit communities—issues like housing, employment, health and mental health care, community safety and policing, child welfare, and education.”
Below are, verbatim, the main points that he instructed Bennett on, by way of resetting the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the federal government. The full letter is at the Prime Minister’s website.
“To support the work of reconciliation, and continue the necessary process of truth telling and healing, work with provinces and territories, and with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit, to implement recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Missing and Murdered Women National Inquiry
“Develop, in collaboration with the Minister of Justice, and supported by the Minister of Status of Women, an approach to, and a mandate for, an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada, including the identification of a lead minister.”
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Compliance With Consultation Mandates and Treaty Rights
“Undertake, with advice from the Minister of Justice, in full partnership and consultation with First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation, a review of laws, policies, and operational practices to ensure that the Crown is fully executing its consultation and accommodation obligations, in accordance with its constitutional and international human rights obligations, including Aboriginal and Treaty rights.”
“Work with the Minister of Finance to establish a new fiscal relationship that lifts the two percent cap on annual funding increases and moves towards sufficient, predictable and sustained funding for First Nations communities.”
“Make significant new investments in First Nations education to ensure that First Nations children on reserve receive a quality education while respecting the principle of First Nations control of First Nations education.”
“Work with residential school survivors, First Nations, Métis Nation, Inuit communities, provinces, territories, and educators to incorporate Aboriginal and treaty rights, residential schools, and Indigenous contributions into school curricula.”
Métis Nation Collaboration
“Work, on a nation-to-nation basis, with the Métis Nation to advance reconciliation and renew the relationship, based on cooperation, respect for rights, our international obligations, and a commitment to end the status quo.”
Environmental Assessment and Treaty Rights
“Collaborate with the Ministers of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change and Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to ensure that environmental assessment legislation is amended to enhance the consultation, engagement and participatory capacity of Indigenous groups in reviewing and monitoring major resource development projects.”
Health and Nutrition
“Work with the Minister of Health to update and expand the Nutrition North program, in consultation with Northern communities.”
Families and Child Care
“Work with the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to launch consultations with provinces and territories and Indigenous Peoples on a National Early Learning and Childcare Framework as a first step towards delivering affordable, high-quality, flexible and fully inclusive child care.”
“Work, in collaboration with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, and in consultation with First Nations, Inuit, and other stakeholders, to improve essential physical infrastructure for Indigenous communities including improving housing outcomes for Indigenous Peoples.”
“Work with the Minister of Status of Women to support the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities in ensuring that no one fleeing domestic violence is left without a place to turn by growing and maintaining Canada’s network of shelters and transition houses.”
Economic Opportunity and Jobs
“Work with the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to promote economic development and create jobs for Indigenous Peoples.”