Actions and Commitments

Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation

First Nations governance and federal representatives come together at Ontario Joint Gathering in Toronto

November 15, 2022
First Nations and federal representatives come together at the Ontario Joint Gathering hosted by Indigenous Services Canada in Toronto on Oct. 25 and 26. – Photo by Indigenous Services Canada

NationTalk: Anishinabek – TORONTO — First Nations Chiefs, community members, and representatives came together with federal bureaucrats at the Ontario Joint Gathering hosted by Indigenous Services Canada in Toronto on Oct. 25 and 26.

The two-day gathering at the Chelsea Hotel in Toronto was an opportunity to strengthen relationships between the Canadian government and First Nations governments, with a series of Federal and First Nations speakers reporting to delegates. Over 45 participants registered over the two days, with 100 attending virtually.

Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare shared that these gatherings are vital for nurturing the working relationship with the federal government.

“I know we have a working relationship, but it could be stronger,” he says.

A key focus in the gathering was water and eliminating long-term drinking water advisories across First Nations in Ontario. Drinking water advisories are established when harmful substances (such as E. coli bacteria) are detected in drinking water supplies. Therefore, indicating that the water is not safe for consumption or, in some cases, daily use. These issues are captured in “Water Warrior: Autumn Peltier,” a short film featuring Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner Autumn Peltier. The film was screened at the gathering highlighting the importance of water in First Nations and Indigenous youth activism to protect it.

Currently, Ontario has the most drinking water advisories in Canada. Indigenous Services Canada announced that 69 advisories had been lifted, with 22 remaining in 19 communities. However, this is not enough as some communities are still impacted in many ways, from health to education. Chief Hare and several other Chiefs and community members discussed that water is everything, shaping all areas of life. Any drinking water advisory in First Nations is a severe and avoidable injustice that needs immediate action.

Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod agrees that these gatherings are essential for First Nations governance and community members to communicate their frustrations and concern.

“Throughout the year, we compile a list of concerns and things that are not getting the attention that they need,” says Chief McLeod in an interview. “This is an opportunity for us to directly speak to the people who make the decisions and the bureaucrats that do the work.”

He elaborates that First Nations are not there “to talk about the good times… we’re here to correct things that are historically wrong or chronic issues with how the (federal) government deals with Indigenous communities,” including the various processes and protocols.

Chief McLeod says many things are worth discussing at this gathering, but he was focusing on the Addition to Reserve (ATR) process, which he thinks needs fixing. The ATR process involves the addition of land to existing Reserve land to create a new Reserve. Communities can do this for various reasons, such as allowing their current Reserve to expand to accommodate a growing community or to protect or use cultural sites. Chief McLeod sat on a panel with federal bureaucrats to provide a community perspective on the existing ATR and claims process. He says that the ATR process can benefit communities, but currently, it is community agency and growth. More thoughtful policy design with First Nations is needed to find meaningful solutions.

In addition to strengthening the working relationship between First Nations and federal governance, the gathering allowed communities to build relationships and share information. Pierre Desbassige from M’Chigeeng First Nation, who also sits on Anishinabek Nation’s Youth Council, was in attendance. The gathering was an excellent opportunity for him to connect with Chiefs and other communities. More importantly, he shared that this was a necessary opportunity for him to learn.

“[I] can take all this information that I have back to Anishinabek Nation Youth Council and hopefully whenever we have another youth gathering, then I can forward all this information that I learned towards other youths and their respective youth councils in Ontario,” he said.

Chief Hare asked that the federal representatives work with First Nations “include us at the big tables.” He explicitly stated that he was not begging anything of them but asserting that communities are treated with respect.