‘We are all impatient’: Trudeau promises First Nations leaders fundamental change

Amid much talk of the next federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday promised First Nations chiefs further reforms to the often fractious relationship between Ottawa and Indigenous people — reforms he said his political successors will find it hard to reverse.

At a special meeting of chiefs outside Ottawa organized by the Assembly of First Nations to discuss federal legislation, Trudeau said that he understands First Nations leaders’ sense of an urgent need to address some pressing social issues — especially the sorry state of the country’s child welfare system — but he said the Liberal government also has its eye on the long term.

“I get the underlying impatience about this issue,” Trudeau said. “We are all impatient to move forward in concrete, tangible, real ways that turn the page decisively and comprehensively.”

Praising his own government’s promise to begin decolonizing Canada’s laws, adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and move to make it easier for First Nations to pursue self-governance, Trudeau said the government is focusing on reforms that will empower Indigenous people and end a cycle of dependence on other levels of government.

“A lot of things just don’t last … and I know my focus as a leader is very much trying to maximize my energy, my focus and the limited resources on things that are going to make a meaningful difference not just now, but for generations to come.”

The prime minister said that, since the last election, the Liberal government has enacted major changes that will be difficult for others to undo, citing the creation of yearly Crown-Indigenous policy tables, splitting the Indigenous Affairs Department to provide a renewed focus on signing modern-day treaties and rolling out billions in new funding to close fiscal gaps.