New coalition wants to repair Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal peoples
“There’s a real need to educate each other on the huge challenges we face"
A new coalition made up of prominent politicians and Aboriginal leaders launched Sept. 4 with the goal of rebuilding the country’s relationship with indigenous peoples.
Canadians for a New Partnership launched in Ottawa with the signing of a declaration calling for restored trust and respect for Aboriginal and treaty rights.
The group’s membership hopes this will achieve better living conditions, better education and more economic opportunities for Aboriginal groups across the country.
Inuit leader and activist Mary Simon is co-chair of the group’s board of directors and one of three Inuit members.
She said she was approached by former Northwest Territories premier Stephen Kakfwi last year, as the Idle No More movement gathered momentum, to help create a forum for indigenous issues.
“It was a compelling invitation,” Simon said. “As a national Inuit leader, while I was on speaking tours, I just found that Canadians in general didn’t know much about Inuit or First Nations and the situation we find ourselves in.
For Inuit, those challenges include a housing shortage across Inuit Nunangat, and ensuring resource development is done sustainably, she said.
While Inuit differ from some First Nations in that Canada’s Inuit have completed land claims, those agreements still need to be honoured and implemented, Simon said.
“We don’t want to re-invent the wheel here, we want to see [these agreements] implemented the way we expected them to be,” she said. “We can use the existing mechanisms that we have.”
To do that, members of Canadians for a New Partnership say they will create a national dialogue on indigenous issues, by attending speaking events, conference and lecture series.
CFNP says it will base its work on the principles recommended by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the result of a 1991 commission called to address Aboriginal issues following events like the Oka Crisis.
One of the group’s main objectives is to engage Canadians in a discussion around the forthcoming final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The non-partisan group already has several high-profile board members: former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark, former Assembly of First Nations chief Ovide Mercredi, former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci and former Auditor General Sheila Fraser.
The group’s two other Inuit directors include climate change activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier and national Inuit Youth president Thomas Anguti Johnston.
The group has received some grants from private foundations, the Government of the Northwest Territories and McGill University. But Simon said CFNP’s next step is to kick start fundraising efforts so the group can remain active.
You can read more about CFNP here.