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'A New Day in Canada': Justin Trudeau Addresses AFN, Makes History

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made history by addressing the Assembly of First Nations chiefs gathering, the first time a sitting leader has done so.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made history on December 8 by addressing the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly, the first sitting leader to do so.

“It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations Peoples,” Trudeau said before about 1,300 people. “One that understands that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation. One that is based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. One that is guided by the spirit and intent of the original treaty relationship; one that respects inherent rights, treaties and jurisdictions; and one that respects the decisions of our courts.”

Trudeau’s address reiterated a total of five points that were part of his campaign around a renewed nation-to-nation relationship. Drawing much approbation was his announcement that he would launch a national inquiry into the causes of the ongoing tragedy of more than 1,200 cases of murdered and missing indigenous women.

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Along with launching the inquiry, Trudeau said his government will make “significant investments” in First Nations education, review all legislation imposed on First Nations by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, lift a two percent cap on funding for First Nations programs and fully implement the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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“These are just five of the commitments we’ve made in our efforts to repair this most important relationship,” Trudeau said. “There are many other actions we will take, from partnering with First Nations as we review and monitor major resource development projects, to providing significant new funding to help promote, preserve and protect indigenous languages and cultures, to working together on essential infrastructure projects from water to roads.”

Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Bobby Cameron said Trudeau’s address was the first from a prime minister to an AFN gathering in 40 years, while the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) said it was the first time a sitting leader had ever addressed a gathering of chiefs.

“We want to commend the prime minister for his commitment and promises kept to our people,” Cameron said in a statement. “It is a new day in Canada, and now the real work begins to discuss, negotiate and implement the new nation-to-nation relationship based on our Inherent and treaty rights.”

Trudeau’s address came just a few days after similar points were voiced in the Speech from the Throne on December 4. In the address, Governor General David Johnston opened the 42nd Parliament with a commitment to Indigenous Peoples.

“Because it is both the right thing to do and a certain path to economic growth, the government will undertake to renew, nation-to-nation, the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples, one based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership,” Johnston said. “Among other measures, the government will work co-operatively to implement recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, will launch an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and will work with First Nations so that every First Nations child receives a quality education.”

Johnston preceded his speech with a traditional First Nations honor song by David Charette of Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, the AFN noted.

“Today’s Speech from the Throne is an important confirmation of the government’s commitments to First Nations, and it promises action on our priorities that we put forward,” said Bellegarde in a statement. “We look forward to working with the government because our priorities are Canada’s priorities. Working together we can close the gap in the quality of life between First Nations people and Canadians, and as a result, everyone wins.”

Aboriginal dancers and elders walk with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde as they enter the hall at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Quebec Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Trudeau says he's launching an investigation into murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls, stressing the need for a stronger relationship with the country's indigenous communities. (Photo: Adrian Wyld /The Canadian Press via AP)