2023 was not a good year for Reconciliation

2023 started off bad and ended up worse.

On January 23 federal, provincial and territory ministers refused to invite any of the leaders of the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council or the Inuit Tapariit Kanatami to participate in the national health funding meetings being held in Ottawa beginning Feb. 7. Just 18 months earlier, after the last of the Three National Dialogues on Indigenous Health convened after the death of Joyce Echaquan, government leaders committed to engage with Indigenous groups on any issues relating to their health. 

So much for government commitments.

One result: The recently announced National Dental Care Plan (December 13) will have limited impact on Indigenous people in remote communities. “If there are no services in your community, more money doesn’t matter”, says Sheri McKinstry co-founder of the Indigenous Dental Association. First Nations and Inuit populations in Canada had nearly twice as much dental disease and more unmet oral health needs compared to non-Indigenous people, according to a 2017 report from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada. 

On January 12, Human Rights Watch released a scathing report on Canada’s violations of Indigenous rights. The report says that Canada is failing to address long-standing abuses, delivering a rebuke of what it calls the federal government’s inadequate climate policy and violations of the rights of Indigenous people and immigration detainees.“ The report censures the government for its G20-leading public financing of fossil-fuel projects and inadequate measures to support First Nations in adapting to the impacts of climate change.”

On December 12, Amnesty International released a report: “Removed from our land for defending it: Criminalization, Intimidation and Harassment of Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders with 33 recommendations directed at the Governments of Canada and BC, the RCMP and its Critical Response Unit, Coastal Gaslink Pipeline and TC Energy, Forsythe Security and the International Community. “Amnesty International has determined that, under the argument of enforcing the injunction, Canada and British Columbia, through the RCMP, have, and continue to, harass, intimidate, unlawfully surveil and criminalize Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their supporters. “

This is what happens when Indigenous protestors get in the way of an extractive industry who use governments, the courts and the police to protect their interests at the expense of Indigenous rights. Is this what will happen with the Ring of Fire where five First Nations have been excluded from any meaningful consultation? What will happen with First Nations and Métis opposition to the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act (Dec. 8, 2022) or the Saskatchewan First Act (March 16, 2023)? Or the Wolastoqey Nation’s title claim in New Brunswick where – again – Indigenous rights are sacrificed for the government’s position: This land is my land, not yours!”

Until that is, the courts step in and rectify longstanding legal injustices. According to CBC News on December 14, “The Canadian government likely owes Indigenous people almost $76 billion for currently filed land claims and lawsuits, recent official reporting says — a sum that’s nearly seven times greater today than when Justin Trudeau became prime minister. 

One way to avoid litigation is to listen. It costs a lot less.

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