Perry Bellegarde Assembly of First Nations policing

Outgoing AFN national chief Perry Bellegarde

Walking the road to truth and reconciliation

What the throne speech promised for Canada’s Indigenous communities.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde commented on the throne speech, delivered yesterday at the Senate of Canada by Governor General Julie Payette. Though the contents of the 54-minute speech focused primarily on federal funding and support for Canadians during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it did address challenges that Indigenous communities have been facing — challenges that have existed for decades, in some cases, and that were the subject of promises in previous elections and throne speeches by the Trudeau Liberals. Today, the government stated that it remains committed to “walking the road to reconciliation,” and furthering projects outlined in last year’s throne speech.

“There’s five key pieces of legislation that jumped out at me,” Bellegarde told CTV last night. “Investments in closing the infrastructure gap, and that means housing and water and broadband — all those things that are direly needed in First Nations communities; the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, we need to see that introduced as soon as possible; policing as an essential service and (reviewing) RCMP performance was another key piece; health legislation to be introduced; and this one was really good, by 2050 zero emissions.

“The job of the Assembly of First Nations is to make sure that all those good things talked about in the throne speech are actually implemented,” he added. “And so now the work begins because we have to influence the mandate letters to all the ministers and we have to influence the federal budget cycle. Getting commitments in the throne speech is just one part of advocacy work. This all has to be in the federal budget or else they are empty promises.

“Once you close the socio-economic gap that exists between First Nations and Canadian people and you continue with investments in education and training and housing and water and broadband, those are not only good for First Nations people, they’re good for Canada.

When asked about benchmarks for success for Indigenous communities, Bellegarde got down to basics.

“The benchmark will be when there are zero boil-water advisories in First Nations communities, when that’s all done away with. Having access to potable water is a fundamental human right, so this is something that should not exist in this beautiful country called Canada.” ■

For more about the Assembly of First Nations, please visit their website.

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