Elders, Chiefs, Commissioners, my colleagues, leaders, honoured
guests, ladies and gentlemen. I have been looking forward to this
opportunity to speak to you about the work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and to speak in the broadest terms about the relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in this country.
We are here to share what we have learned from the Commission and outline the direction we intend to take, using the insight we now have as a result of its powerful report.
Of the many, many individuals and organizations who spoke to the
Commissioners, I am reminded today of the testimony of a young person who said: "One of our great spiritual leaders advises us that we must look back seven generations and look forward seven generations and realize that we are the balance." The seventh generation philosophy, a traditional way of thinking and decision making, orients us between past and future. It tells us to be conscious of the lasting impact of our decisions today and to do the very best we can for coming generations.
I feel that today we are indeed the balance. We have been informed by the past, particularly through the work of the Commission, and we can see opportunity in the future. We must proceed with care, because just as we are living with the past, what we do today will stay with us for generations.
Let me begin by putting the Report in context. The Commissioners terms of reference were exhaustive. They were asked to review everything from the origins and structures of Aboriginal governments and the nature of claim settlements, to the Indian Act and social, economic and cultural concerns.
I would like to thank Chief Commissioners Erasmus and Dussault and all
of the other Commissioners, staff and witnesses who made the Report of
the Royal Commission such a comprehensive body of work. The Commissioners
crossed the country gathering the stories of the
Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Their report spans five volumes, 3,500
pages and makes 440 recommendations. Their task was daunting; so was
the outcome. Having received the report, the federal government found
itself in the same position as the Commissioners must have been in at
the outset, wondering where and how do we begin?
Without question, this historic body of work has had a tremendous
personal and institutional impact. From talking with the
Commissioners, I know that this work clearly transformed them. It has
also transformed the ideas and understanding of others, including
Over the last year, weve come to understand where weve already made
progress in line with the Commissions suggestions. We see now where
there is new work to be done; what we can consider in partnership with
others down the road; and what we might not ever get to.
In a few minutes I will outline four sets of objectives and program
initiatives that, guided by the work of the Royal Commission, form the
basis of an action plan for this government. However, we first need to
understand that over and above hundreds of individual recommendations,
the Commissioners directed us to examine the very core of how we have
lived together in this country.
The Commissioners identify four stages in relations between Aboriginal
and non-Aboriginal people. First, separate worlds -- prior to European
arrival in Canada. Then, contact and cooperation -- a time when
settlers and Aboriginal people were co-dependent. Next, a
deterioration to displacement and assimilation -- the period from the
early 1800s until about 30 years ago, a time when colonial governments
imposed their ways on Aboriginal people. Finally, renewal -- our
chance now in this generation to correct past wrongs and move forward
in cooperative relationships once again.
Simply put, the Commissioners had a profound message for us. The
Commissioners said, and I quote, "The main policy direction, pursued
for more than 150 years, first by colonial then by Canadian
governments, has been wrong."
Today we are here to say that we have listened and we have heard. The
time has come to state formally that the days of paternalism and
disrespect are behind us and that we are committed to changing the
nature of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal
people in Canada.
Having said that, we cannot look forward without first looking back
and coming to terms with the impact of our past actions and attitudes.
History cannot be changed, but it must be understood in a way that
reflects that people today are living out the legacy of decisions made
in a different time.
Chief Steven Point of the Sto:lo Nation in British Columbia points to
that legacy in describing day-to-day life in his community. As a
lawyer, he talks about "Indian Day" at Chilliwack court, the day on
which all of the Indian cases are dealt with. He can even laugh a
little when he says that these court days are a little like a family
reunion because there are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters,
brothers and sisters all there in trouble from the same families. As a
Chief, he says there are not enough hours in the day to help members
of his community struggling with alcoholism, devastated by suicide, or
tempted by crime for lack of anything better to do. He says that
trying to cope with it all is like trying to hold water in his hands.
And the worst part of all, he says, is that his people have little
hope, little confidence, little faith in either him or themselves to
regain their pride and sense of self-worth. There is a poverty of
spirit, a poverty of the soul. What Chief Point describes is a
reflection of the grief and pain of Aboriginal people. But where there
is difficulty and distress, there is also leadership and vision. Chief
Point and all First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities are
determined to restore hope and strengthen their communities. I believe
they can and they will. For its part, I believe that the federal
government must acknowledge its role in the past relationship so that
the transformation can begin.
To that end, the Government of Canada wants to make a solemn offer of
Statement of Reconciliation
As Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians seek to move
forward together in a process of renewal, it is essential that we deal
with the legacies of the past affecting the Aboriginal peoples of
Canada, including the First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Our purpose is
not to rewrite history but, rather, to learn from our past and to find
ways to deal with the negative impacts that certain historical
decisions continue to have in our society today.
The ancestors of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples
lived on this continent long before explorers from other continents
first came to North America. For thousands of years before this
country was founded, they enjoyed their own forms of government.
Diverse, vibrant Aboriginal nations had ways of life rooted in
fundamental values concerning their relationships to the Creator, the
environment and each other, in the role of Elders as the living memory
of their ancestors, and in their responsibilities as custodians of the
lands, waters and resources of their homelands.
The assistance and spiritual values of the Aboriginal
peoples who welcomed the newcomers to this continent too often have
been forgotten. The contributions made by all Aboriginal peoples to
Canadas development, and the contributions that they continue to make
to our society today, have not been properly acknowledged. The
Government of Canada today, on behalf of all Canadians, acknowledges
Sadly, our history with respect to the treatment of
Aboriginal people is not something in which we can take pride.
Attitudes of racial and cultural superiority led to a suppression of
Aboriginal culture and values. As a country, we are burdened by past
actions that resulted in weakening the identity of Aboriginal peoples,
suppressing their languages and cultures, and outlawing spiritual
practices. We must recognize the impact of these actions on the once
self-sustaining nations that were disaggregated, disrupted, limited or
even destroyed by the dispossession of traditional territory, by the
relocation of Aboriginal people, and by some provisions of the Indian
Act. We must acknowledge that the result of these actions was the
erosion of the political, economic and social systems of Aboriginal
people and nations.
Against the backdrop of these historical legacies, it is a
remarkable tribute to the strength and endurance of Aboriginal people
that they have maintained their historic diversity and identity. The
Government of Canada today formally expresses to all Aboriginal people
in Canada our profound regret for past actions of the federal
government which have contributed to these difficult pages in the
history of our relationship together.
One aspect of our relationship with Aboriginal people over
this period that requires particular attention is the Residential
School system. This system separated many children from their families
and communities and prevented them from speaking their own languages
and from learning about their heritage and cultures. In the worst
cases, it left legacies of personal pain and distress that continue to
reverberate in Aboriginal communities to this day. Tragically, some
children were the victims of physical and sexual abuse.
The Government of Canada acknowledges the role it played
in the development and administration of these schools. Particularly
to those individuals who experienced the tragedy of sexual and
physical abuse at residential schools, and who have carried this
burden believing that in some way they must be responsible, we wish to
emphasize that what you experienced was not your fault and should
never have happened. To those of you who suffered this tragedy at
residential schools, we are deeply sorry.
In dealing with the legacies of the Residential School
system, the Government of Canada proposes to work with First Nations,
Inuit and Métis people, the Churches and other interested parties to
resolve the longstanding issues that must be addressed. We need to
work together on a healing strategy to assist individuals and
communities in dealing with the consequences of this sad era of our
No attempt at reconciliation with Aboriginal people can be
complete without reference to the sad events culminating in the death
of Métis leader Louis Riel. These events cannot be undone; however, we
can and will continue to look for ways of affirming the contributions
of Métis people in Canada and of reflecting Louis Riels proper place
in Canadas history.
Reconciliation is an ongoing process. In renewing our
partnership, we must ensure that the mistakes which marked our past
relationship are not repeated. The Government of Canada recognizes
that policies that sought to assimilate Aboriginal people, women and
men, were not the way to build a strong country. We must instead
continue to find ways in which Aboriginal people can participate fully
in the economic, political, cultural and social life of Canada in a
manner which preserves and enhances the collective identities of
Aboriginal communities, and allows them to evolve and flourish in the
future. Working together to achieve our shared goals will benefit all
Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike.
I have signed this statement today with the Federal Interlocutor, to
affirm the governments commitment to reconciling the past and building
a better future together with Aboriginal people.
Our words must be supported by concrete actions. We must work together
to help Aboriginal individuals, families and communities to heal the
wounds caused by physical and sexual abuse in the Residential School
system. Today, the federal government commits $350 million for
community-based healing as a first step to deal with the legacy of
physical and sexual abuse at residential schools. It will be First
Nations, Inuit and Métis people themselves, along with health and
social professionals, who will help us in shaping support that is
culturally sensitive and reflects the experiences of different
communities. I believe that much can be learned from the British
Columbia Residential Schools Project, which was initiated by the B.C.
Summit Chiefs and is supported by the federal government. The project
is coordinating support and referral services, and providing for
inter-agency co-operation to ensure that the needs of victims of abuse
are not compromised by jurisdictional boundaries.
If the past gives us pause, certainly the way ahead gives us hope.
This is a time to build; to gather strength. And if we are to seize
the opportunities before us, we need to do it together.
I am confident that the majority of Canadians support building a new
partnership with Aboriginal people. In my travels, Ive spoken to
provincial and territorial ministers, municipal leaders, bankers and
business people, scholars and social activists, and individual
Canadians. They all clearly see the need for change.
We cant change everything overnight -- the Royal Commission itself
called for a 20-year process of renewal. But we can certainly get
started, and thats what we are here to do today.
We are announcing today a comprehensive framework for action based on
the following objectives:
Let me begin with our goal of renewing the partnership.
Partnership. Its a word often used without any clear definition of
what it really means.
The Royal Commission challenged us to construct relationships between
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people characterized by mutual respect
and recognition, responsibility and sharing. This is the basis of the
partnership we seek. It includes Aboriginal organizations and
individuals, all levels of government, the private and voluntary
sectors, other interested parties and all Canadians. It implies a
celebration of our diversity while sharing a common vision. It also
implies a practical and constructive working relationship.
In this context, and particularly with respect to the working
relationship, our commitment to partnership is:
Our commitment began today with the Statement of Reconciliation and
the $350 million for healing to address the legacy of physical and
sexual abuse at residential schools. To help renew the partnership, we
are also proposing:
Id now like to turn to our second objective: strengthening Aboriginal
Government is about people. It is about making lives better for
people. We need to ensure that Aboriginal people have the tools and
capacity to improve the lives of those they serve. To be responsive
and accountable to community needs, Aboriginal governments must have
the legitimacy and authority to be effective. That is why we are
committed to assisting Aboriginal people to design, develop and
deliver the programs and services they need from their governments.
Self-government means well-defined, negotiated arrangements with
rights and responsibilities that can be exercised in a coordinated
way. And the result of this will be that other governments, the
private sector, other individuals and institutions can easily
establish a relationship with Aboriginal governments and communities
and participate in the partnerships we are talking about here.
A stronger economic base is absolutely essential to achieving this
outcome. That includes working with First Nations to provide increased
access to lands and resources. We must also continue to address
Aboriginal land claims in a fair and equitable way. Claims settlements
in the Yukon provide a good example of how claims and economic
development go hand in hand and are the basis for strong
This commitment to strong self-government and to open, inclusive
dialogue will also guide us as we and our partners create the new
territory of Nunavut and proceed with constitutional development for
the western part of the Northwest Territories.
Our goal is even greater success, more models of good governance. To
that end, we will pursue the following key initiatives:
Strong governance is in turn closely linked to our third objective of
developing a new fiscal relationship.
In a relationship based on sharing and mutual responsibility, one
government cannot completely depend on the other for all of its
revenue and resources. Its just not workable. We are working to help
Aboriginal governments become self-reliant with the fiscal autonomy
and financial capacity they need to support their responsibilities.
This is a tremendous challenge. It means that our system of transfers
must be forward-thinking and predictable so that elected
representatives can plan, make informed spending decisions and be
accountable for those choices. It also means that we have to look at
helping Aboriginal people to develop their own sources of revenue,
Aboriginal governments, like all governments, must be both politically
and financially responsible. The legitimacy of Aboriginal governments
depends on their ability to be accountable to the people they
represent. Canadians also want to ensure that we are investing in
strong, effective and accountable Aboriginal governments. Currently,
Aboriginal governments are developing and operating within a framework
of financial standards comparable to other levels of government. This
is a foundation upon which we shall build to further strengthen
transparency and accountability and foster strong, modern governments.
The following initiatives are part of a new fiscal relationship:
Fundamentally, its our fourth objective, supporting strong
communities, people and economies, that really brings us back to the
very essence of what government is all about, and that is making
peoples lives better. A partnership approach, responsible government
and a solid fiscal relationship that Ive just outlined are the
foundation we need to support strong communities and deal with the
issues that touch individual daily lives -- education, housing, health
care, jobs and economic opportunity.
As individual Canadians, were focused on keeping a roof over our head,
putting food on the table and trying to make sure our kids have it
even better than we did. But for Aboriginal people, the urgency and
uncertainty around these issues are far greater.
The Aboriginal population is growing at twice the national rate, and
now totals 3.8 percent of the national population. Thats approximately
1.3 million people. Half the Aboriginal population is under the age of
Against this backdrop, conditions in many Aboriginal communities are
The following specific initiatives are designed to give immediate
hope, support and opportunity to Aboriginal people and communities:
What encourages me is that we are not starting from zero in our
efforts. We can build on the significant achievements of our first
mandate, such as the Inherent Right of Self-Government policy; the
Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business; the settling of land
claims; the new housing policy; and the building of schools and water
and sewer systems across the country. In reflecting on the last four
years, I think that when we took office in 1993, we saw a desperate
need for action on all fronts and we immediately tested the water with
both feet, so to speak. Our focus was to stem the tide of
deterioration in living conditions in Aboriginal communities, as well
as to jump-start work on settling claims and stimulating economic
development. We saw that the federal government couldnt do it all
alone, and that there was a need for partnership.
Today we go farther. Partnerships must now be the defining principle
of our relationships. They must guide us at every step we take in this
generation and the next and the one after that.
Partnership is something you have to work at to get it right. And may
I say that we would not be here today without the thoughtful advice
and counsel of the Aboriginal leadership here with us.
My colleague Minister Goodale and I have had a series of excellent
discussions with our counterparts Harry Daniels of the Congress of
Aboriginal Peoples; Okalik Eegeesiak, the newly elected president of
the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada; Gérald Morin of the Métis National
Council; Marilyn Buffalo of the Native Womens Association of Canada;
and Phil Fontaine, Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Each
of you have brought a unique perspective to our discussions, and have
helped build the foundation for an ongoing collaborative relationship.
Weve still got room to grow, but we are building a true partnership.
Together, we will get there.
So what comes next? As I agreed at the outcome of the Premiers meeting
with Aboriginal leaders in November, in the months ahead, I will be
meeting national Aboriginal leaders and my provincial and territorial
colleagues to build a common plan of action to make renewed
partnerships a reality.
This is not the end of the work of the Royal Commission. It is the
beginning of how we will conduct ourselves with our newfound insight
and knowledge. Just as the Commission was struck at a pivotal point in
history, I hope that we will look back on this time as an important
turning point -- not unlike the seventh generation principle -- one at
which we turned the page to a new and more prosperous future together.
Internationally, we pride ourselves as peacekeepers and advocates of
what is right and just. Today, I believe our offer of reconciliation
was right and just, and offers us the opportunity to move forward. For
years, the United Nations has said that Canada is the best place in
the world to live. The time has come to make sure that this indeed
reflects the reality of all peoples in this country.
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people live side by side in this great
country. In its recent decision in the Delgamukw case, the Chief
Justice wrote: "Let us face it, we are all here to stay." This simple
but profound statement is one we all need to take to heart. I look to
all of you in this room for commitment to partnerships. If we all
bring our collective resources and will to the table, we can make
I hope that Aboriginal people can shortly say with pride that they
feel "of" this country and not just marginalized within it. I hope
that in gathering strength we can restore the balance and chart a new course in partnership.