Letter: An open letter calling out government inaction on Indigenous issues

Tabling of documents is just words without Royal Assent on legislation

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ministers Carolyn Bennett and Mark Miller and has been reprinted here at the author’s request.

To the Expositor:

In my letter to the then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, printed in the November 28, 2007 edition of The Manitoulin Expositor, I had questioned why the prime minister, the minister responsible for Indian and Northern Affairs and Development and Federal Interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status Indians, would not declare publicly to Canadians and aboriginal people of their decision not to support or acknowledge the ‘United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ (UNDRIP) and why the prime minister, under a Conservative government, would vote “no” at the session of United Nations held on September 13, 2007, where 143 out of 147 counties around the world voted “yes” to UNDRIP.

In a press conference held on December 3, 2020, the Minister of Justice Mr. Lametti announced the introduction of legislation on the UNDRIP, 13 years late. This comes in just a day before, on December 2, 2020, the Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, Mark Miller, announced in his press conference that the Government of Canada had failed to eliminate water crisis and advisories and that it would not meet it targets for March 2021. Meanwhile, just two days before that on November 30, 2020, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Christia Freeland made her economic announcement, but made no mention of the 30 billion dollar deficit required for clean drinking water as described in their “departmental plan” and made no mention of the plight of aboriginal peoples either in their economic recovery plan in the midst of a pandemic.

As a First Nation citizen living in Canada, too many times I’ve seen press releases, press conferences and hype surrounding legislation introduced for the purposes of benefiting aboriginal peoples too many times. Those actions meant nothing, the tabling of documents means nothing to me—they’re just words with no clarity or substance. Unless proposed legislation receives Royal Assent, then aboriginal people can begin to accept it, and not every aboriginal person will accept it. While many may believe and see this as a first good step, I remain skeptical because we’ve been misled and lied to too many times. It does nothing to fix the practical issues on the ground facing First Nations. 

I was there when you made promises to the chiefs in assembly at an Assembly of First Nations gathering in 2015 to bring all First Nations water issues and advisories to zero. You as prime minister ought not make promises you cannot keep and this would bode well for future prime ministers.

Water is considered a fundamental human right around the world and the UNDRIP supports that fundamental human right under international law.

While there has been some progress and recognition made to our issues on global international level, the international community is watching and what your government does or will do in the midst of a pandemic will be the test.

It’s not the cries of your officials claiming failure on your behalf that strikes me; no one cares about that. It’s the cries of my brothers and sisters who just want the basic as clean drinking water to be provided to them, it’s the cries of the children wanting to go home. We didn’t create this mess, you didn’t create this mess, but what we do expect is for you as prime minister to help fix it, and leave partisan politics and rhetoric out of it and provide the necessary resources to do that.

Donald J. McGraw

M’Kwaa Dodem

Aundegomniikaaning First Nation