Current Problems

National Council for Reconciliation (53-56)

Feds unable to list Indigenous communities consulted on reconciliation council bill

February 6, 2023

Liberal parliamentary secretary says ‘esteemed’ Indigenous leaders led engagement on C-29

Visitors created a memorial at the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill on May 30, 2021, following the discovery of potential unmarked burials at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (Olivier Hyland/CBC)

CBC News: The Canadian government says it’s unable to list the Indigenous communities that participated in the drafting of the proposed National Council for Reconciliation Act, because no such list exists.

Bill C-29 would create an oversight body to monitor, report and make recommendations on the state of reconciliation in Canada, but it received tepid responses from some national Indigenous leaders testifying during House of Commons committee hearings.

In one October 2022 session, Bloc Québécois MP Marilène Gill asked senior Crown-Indigenous Relations officials, appearing with Minister Marc Miller, to list the First Nations consulted, but they didn’t have the information handy. This week, nearly four months later, the department responded that it has no list of specific Indigenous communities engaged during the bill development process.

Ottawa says this process was led by the reconciliation council’s interim board in 2018 and its transitional committee in 2021.

A written statement, provided to the Commons Indigenous affairs committee, says the interim board hosted “a vibrant national engagement” with 25 people in April 2018, who attended as individuals and not as community representatives. The transitional committee, created in December 2021, “took a targeted approach to engagement” given “the urgency felt by many residential school survivors and their families to move forward with legislation,” the statement adds.

Tory critic questions bill’s handling

Gary Vidal, Conservative MP for northern Saskatchewan and Opposition Crown-Indigenous relations critic, said the lack of clarity on consultation sends the wrong message to Indigenous groups that want a seat at the table. “They want to have relationships built on trust, built on authenticity, that are real, and what we’re getting is an Ottawa-knows-best, top-down, dictated solution to every problem out there,” Vidal said.

Conservative MP Gary Vidal rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa in June 2021.(Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

He criticized the way the Liberals shepherded the bill through the Commons, saying they “basically sat on” the interim board’s report for more than three years, then tabled C-29 on the last day before MPs rose for the 2022 summer break. That meant it wasn’t debated until the fall, Vidal said, and when it went to the committee stage, some Indigenous leaders criticized it.

The committee addressed the criticism by adopting 17 of 19 proposed amendments, but the Liberals could’ve avoided the issue altogether by consulting with these organizations ahead of time, said Vidal. “They don’t actually go and talk to people on the ground,” he said.

Bill based off TRC call to action: Battiste

Liberal MP Jaime Battiste, who is Mi’kmaw from Nova Scotia and Miller’s parliamentary secretary, disagreed. He said via email that the framework for C-29 came largely from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Call to Action 53. The commission crisscrossed the country for years as it produced a historic account of Canada’s Indian residential school system, along with 94 calls for reform, in its 2015 final report.

Call to Action 53 urged the federal government to table legislation creating a national reconciliation council, whose membership Ottawa and national Indigenous organizations would co-appoint.

Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Jaime Battiste rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. A Mi'kmaw member of Parliament says a proposed federal electoral boundary change in Nova Scotia will remove him from his riding, along with two Indigenous communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Parliamentary secretary to the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Jaime Battiste rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Dec. 9, 2022. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Battiste said both the council’s interim board and transitional committee, which included former TRC commissioner Wilton Littlechild, “are led by esteemed Indigenous leaders” who planned the engagement process around that call to action. “They hosted events with Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals with experience on reconciliation and technical expertise on a range of subjects, including non-profit development and data collection,” he wrote.

Work to refine the bill continues in the Senate, Battiste added, saying “broader engagement with Indigenous communities and organizations” is on the horizon should the legislation pass.

The NDP’s Crown-Indigenous Relations critic agreed with Battiste.  Nunavut MP Lori Idlout said in a statement that the party “supported the urgency of getting this bill to the Senate” and trusts the intent of the TRC’s call to action.

The amended version of the bill still needs to pass second reading in the Senate, be studied by a committee, then be read a third time there before it can become law.


Brett Forester, Reporter

Brett Forester is a reporter with CBC Indigenous in Ottawa. He is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in southern Ontario who previously worked as a journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.