Congratulations to our prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, for taking action on his promise to enter into a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples in Canada. I do not have a reciprocal pledge, as we have been waiting a long time in the space Trudeau now wishes to occupy with us. I can, however, pledge to welcome this new relationship with open arms and with decades of ideas on how to work together, which may be new to government but are certainly not new to Inuit.
Within the context of a distinctions-based approach to Canada’s First peoples, I have requested that our Inuit-specific relationship be termed a renewed “Inuit to Crown” relationship, as our place in Canada rests within the context of our settled land claim agreements, and established constitutional and international Indigenous peoples rights, all of which are in part held federally with the Crown.
I am thankful that the prime Minister has such respect for us as to add the primacy of our relationship in each of his mandate letters to his Cabinet Ministers. These mandated instructions promise Inuit that all Government of Canada Ministers, and in turn federal departments, will meaningfully engage with us across the political spectrum on all of our issues that link with the federal government.
It is a pledge to treat Inuit and our issues with the respect that has already been given to us by the courts, through legislation, and by international instruments such as the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples.
It opens the possibility that we can meaningfully work on our most pressing Inuit issues, such as housing, education, lnuktut, suicide prevention, infrastructure development, climate change, research, and land claims implementation, even if these issues may not have been mentioned specifically in the speech from the Throne or the Liberal platform. It opens up the possibility for greater Inuit equity, and I am excited to engage within this framework.
During this time of optimism, it is important to recognize that our relationship with Canada should not be driven by the character of a politician or sympathy of a political party. Let this be the last time a political platform runs on a renewed relationship with its indigenous peoples, and let this be a start of a new established and primary role that Inuit, First Nations, and Metis play within all matters that affect us.
So, just like in the 1970s when we justified our land claims with mandated land use and occupancy studies that explained to government on their terms how we owned our land,
we now embark on a similar issues-based exercise to inform this new government about our priority areas, how to understand them, and ultimately work together to resolve them.
Let us hope that the outcome of this exercise is a new and permanent way that government and Inuit work together for the betterment of Inuit and Canada.
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami