Tsilhqot’in National Government representatives lawyer Jay Nelson (left), Alexis Creek First Nation Chief Otis Guichon Sr., Tl’esqox First Nation Chief Francis Laceese, Xeni Gwet’in First Nation Councillor Marilyn Baptiste and tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse (right) meet with Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott in Ottawa this week. Photo submitted

Tsilhqot’in National Government representatives lawyer Jay Nelson (left), Alexis Creek First Nation Chief Otis Guichon Sr., Tl’esqox First Nation Chief Francis Laceese, Xeni Gwet’in First Nation Councillor Marilyn Baptiste and tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse (right) meet with Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott in Ottawa this week. Photo submitted

Federal Indigenous rights framework welcomed by political leaders

First Nations rights already under the Constitution will be upheld with new framework, WLIB Chief Ann Louie said.

The federal government’s new Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework announced by Prime Minister Trudeau this week in Ottawa is long overdue, say First Nation and non-First Nation leaders.

During a speech in the House of Commons Wednesday, Trudeau said he is planning to overhaul the way the federal government relates to Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

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“We need to both recognize and implement Indigenous rights,” Trudeau said. “Because the truth is, until we get this part right, we won’t have lasting success on the concrete outcomes that we know mean so much to people.”

Trudeau said the new framework will be developed in partnership with First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie told the Tribune Thursday, “it’s about time.”

“We’ve been protected under the Section 35 of the Constitution for a long time and people are always referring to it as an ’empty box’ but it’s actually already a full box of rights.”

With the announcement, the federal government is not giving First Nations more rights, but is recognizing the rights they have always had and making sure they can be self-governing people, Louie said, noting it is good news for all Canadians because it will save thousands, if not billions, of dollars in court costs.

“We shouldn’t have to go to court to prove that our rights are protected when it’s in the Constitution,” she added.

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Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chair of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, was in Ottawa to hear Prime Minister Trudeau make the announcement and described it as a “small step in the right direction, but a significant one.”

“As Tsilhqot’in, we have pushed for over 150 years for change in this country and progress is far too slow,” Alphonse said.

“We will hold him to his words. The journey for our rights may be long, but we are headed in the right direction. We will know that we are finally making progress when – and only when – our people actually feel change in our communities, enjoying the quality of life and hope for the future that other Canadians take for granted. We hope the Prime Minister’s announcement is a step on that path.”

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Premier John Horgan welcomed the announcement saying B.C. shares Ottawa’s commitment.

“Our government is taking steps in partnership with Indigenous Peoples in our jurisdiction to make true reconciliation possible,” Horgan said.

“In yesterday’s speech from the throne, we announced our intention to develop a cross-ministry framework in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to meet our commitments to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Tsilhqot’in decision.”

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Horgan said it is a unique time in Canada’s history, where all partners at the table are focused on transforming the Crown-Indigenous relationship.

“That process starts when we recognize the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Horgan said. “We look forward to working with First Nations, Métis, all Indigenous partners and Canada, as we build a new and better relationship.”

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