As Senators held a special hearing in Yellowknife with Northern Indigenous leaders on the future relationship with the Government of Canada, the new Dene National chief was involved in similar work in Ottawa.
Fresh from being elected on Aug. 22, Norman Yakeleya, Dene National Chief and Assembly of First Nations(AFN) regional chief attended a national policy forum on affirming First Nations rights, title and jurisdiction in Gatineau, Quebec Sept.11 and 12.
The event was hosted by the AFN and featured Crown-Indigenous Minister Carolyn Bennett, who is in the process of leading her government on the creation of a legislative bill called the National Engagement with Indigenous People on the Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights. The idea is to build a new relationship between the federal government and Indigenous people by recognizing their “inherent, treaty and constitutionally protected rights” through policies and laws, according Crown and Indigenous Relations and Northern Development website.
The bill, expected to be tabled before December, follows months of consultation between the federal government and various groups, including First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.
National media reports last week noted that many Indigenous groups are concerned about the timeframe of implementation as the federal government wants to pass a bill by the end of this year and before the 2019 election.
Completing the bill is also important for the Trudeau Liberals as it intends to fully exercise the rights of Indigenous people under section 35 of the Constitution Act and accounts for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons.
Yakeleya said he was “excited and very optimistic” with what the federal government was proposing but still wanted to have the opportunity to review with Dene representatives the report of findings from consultations.
“Canada is coming forward and Canada is saying that Canada needs to change,” Yakeleya said last week. “The thing I want to do is bring the five grand chiefs to meet with me shortly and move this agenda at our end in asking the federal government that we need meaningful consultation,” he said. “Obviously we would go back to our regions and our communities and look at the recognition and inherent rights framework.“We know we are on tight timeframe with election coming up and we want discussion with own people to give our position as the Dene nation to the AFN.”
Yakeleya said he regretted not being able to attend the Senate hearing, he said there are more commonalities than differences among Northern Indigenous groups on what they need in a “new relationship.” He noted the need for better housing, education, land access, healing from addictions, language revitalization and supporting traditional food harvesters, trappers and hunters as examples.
“We are all fighting the same battle for proper adequate funding and position toward an agreement that everybody is satisfied with,” Yakeleya said.
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples chair Lillian Dyck said last week she hoped that the hearing would contribute to the inherent rights framework that the federal government is pushing.