Indigenous Government Relations Overview for May 2024

'Language is Identity': Indigenous Ontario Legislator Makes History at Queen's Park

Sol Mamakwa, a New Democrat and the sole First Nation legislator in Ontario, made history by delivering a speech entirely in his native language, Anishininiimowin (Oji-Cree), on the floor of the Ontario Legislature. Mamakwa’s address marked the first time a language other than English or French has been permitted in the provincial chamber.  This groundbreaking moment, which Mamakwa described as “monumental,” was attended by approximately 100 supporters, including his family and First Nation leaders. Mamakwa’s speech secured a commitment from Premier Doug Ford to build a long-term care home in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, fulfilling a crucial need in his community.

Mamakwa’s journey to this milestone was shaped by the historical suppression of Indigenous languages in Canada. Like many Indigenous children, Mamakwa faced punishment for speaking his native language while attending residential school. However, his mother, Kezia Mamakwa, played a crucial role in preserving and passing down their language and culture. Mamakwa’s speech was a powerful call to action for First Nations to revitalize their languages while older generations who speak it are still present. His address not only emphasized the importance of language preservation but also marked a significant step toward reconciliation in Canada.

This momentous occasion was made possible after Mamakwa convinced Government House Leader Paul Calandra to allow him to speak in Anishininiimowin, prompting a change in the standing orders to accommodate Indigenous languages in the legislative chamber. Interpreters were present to translate Mamakwa’s words in real-time, and his speech will be represented in syllabics, an Indigenous writing system, in the official record of proceedings at Queen’s Park. The event was met with emotional reactions from Mamakwa’s family, with his brother Jonathon expressing pride and acknowledging the role their late father played in inspiring them to strive for greatness. Indigenous leaders praised the significance of Mamakwa’s speech, emphasizing its importance in preserving and celebrating Indigenous languages and cultures.

Huron-Wendat Nation and the Government of Canada Settle Claim for Rockmont Reserve

The Huron-Wendat Nation and the Government of Canada have reached a settlement agreement on the Rockmont Reserve claim, addressing a historical grievance where more than 9,000 acres of the Nation’s reserve land was illegally surrendered in 1904. The surrender resulted in lost economic opportunities and traditional activities for the Nation. The settlement includes compensation of close to $149 million and an option for the Nation to acquire up to 9,600 acres of land. This agreement reflects a renewed commitment to honor obligations and is a significant step in reconciliation, acknowledging past wrongs and building a better future for everyone in Canada.

Blood Tribe Can’t Sue Ottawa For Treaty Violation Due To Provincial Time Limitations

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal government breached its Treaty with the Kainai Nation, also known as the Blood Tribe, by failing to provide the promised reserve land. However, the province’s statute of limitations prevents the band from seeking remedy through the courts. The case, Jim Shot Both Sides v. Canada, centered around the Crown’s failure to fulfill its Treaty obligation to set aside as much land as promised to the Blood Tribe when Treaty 7 was signed in 1877. Despite acknowledging the government’s “deplorable” conduct, the court found that the nation failed to bring the matter to court within the required timeframe under Alberta’s statute of limitations.

The claim originated in the 1980s, focusing on whether the clock for the statute of limitations began ticking in 1971 or 1982. While the Federal Court ruled in favor of the Blood Tribe, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision, prohibiting the lawsuit. The Supreme Court ultimately sided with the Court of Appeal, suggesting that Treaty rights were enforceable before the Constitution’s patriation. Despite the setback, Justice Michelle O’Bonsawin highlighted the Crown’s dishonorable conduct and emphasized the importance of acknowledging wrongdoing for reconciliation. The ruling potentially positions the Blood Tribe to seek recourse through a specific claims tribunal, where they could be awarded up to $150 million. While the ruling may offer some hope for resolution, it also raises concerns about the constitutionality of provincial statutes of limitations concerning holding the Crown accountable for historical injustices.

Ontario Reaches Land Claim Settlement with Matachewan First Nation

The Ontario government has settled a treaty land entitlement claim with the Matachewan First Nation, located southeast of Timmins, Ontario. The settlement includes $590,000 and over 2,000 hectares of provincial Crown land, which may be added to the First Nation’s reserve. This settlement addresses the shortfall in the land initially promised under Treaty 9 (the James Bay Treaty), which allocated nearly 260 hectares per family of five, or just over 50 hectares per individual, but Matachewan First Nation did not receive their full entitlement. Since 1983, Ontario has settled 65 land claims and agreements with Indigenous communities.

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Chacachas Treaty Nation and Canada Set to Advance Reconciliation Talks

The Chacachas Treaty Nation and the Government of Canada have taken a significant step toward renewing their relationship by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aimed at advancing reconciliation. This MoU, developed collaboratively, will guide future discussions as they work together to reconstitute Chacachas as a distinct Treaty First Nation, in line with the Federal Court’s 2020 Watson-Bear decision. This decision recognized that the Crown unlawfully merged the Chacachas Band with the Ochapowace First Nation in 1884 and affirmed Chacachas’ entitlement to assert ongoing Treaty rights under Treaty 4.

The MoU does not resolve the Watson-Bear litigation but is part of a broader effort to find fair solutions outside the court system. It outlines how facilitated discussions will occur and what topics will be covered, including the re-establishment of Chacachas as a Treaty First Nation, self-government arrangements, and the preservation of Chacachas’ culture, language, and heritage.

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Government of Canada provides funding to Whitecap Early Learning Centre to Improve Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Programs

The Government of Canada is addressing the high costs of childcare, which burden young families, particularly Millennial and Gen Z parents, making it difficult to balance careers and family life. To promote fairness across generations, the government is making life more affordable by investing in early learning and childcare, ensuring that parents, especially mothers, do not have to choose between their careers and starting a family. Recognizing the importance of culturally rooted early learning for Indigenous children, the government is investing in Indigenous-led programs. Minister Gary Anandasangaree announced an additional $35,000 investment in Whitecap Dakota Nation’s Early Learning Centre. This funding, part of the Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Quality Improvement Projects, will help develop best practices and innovative models in Indigenous early learning, particularly for children with special needs and neurodivergence.

The Whitecap Early Learning Centre, a licensed facility supporting up to 56 children, emphasizes holistic education with a strong focus on Dakota culture. The project aligns with the Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework, aiming to enhance staff training and create new resources. In Saskatchewan, families are benefiting from $10-a-day regulated childcare, saving parents up to $6,900 per year per child. To expand these benefits, the government announced an additional $27.7 million investment over four years to build more childcare spaces across the province. This effort is part of a broader initiative to give every child the best possible start in life.

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Meadow Lake Tribal Council and Canada Set to Advance Talks on Reconciliation and Self-Determination

The Meadow Lake Tribal Council and the Government of Canada have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to promote lasting reconciliation and strengthen their nation-to-nation relationship based on Meadow Lake First Nations’ priorities. This MOU, developed collaboratively, aims to advance the Meadow Lake First Nations’ right to self-determination through negotiated agreements. These agreements will focus on restoring First Nation control over governance, land and resource management, and justice administration, including policing and restorative justice.

 

The Meadow Lake Tribal Council represents nine First Nations across three treaty areas in northwestern Saskatchewan, with a total population of over 17,700 members. These First Nations include Birch Narrows First Nation, Buffalo River Dene Nation, Canoe Lake Cree First Nation, Clearwater River Dene, English River First Nation, Flying Dust First Nation, Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation, and Waterhen Lake First Nation.

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Change to B.C. Law Allows First Nations to Directly Own Land

The British Columbia government has implemented changes to a law that previously prevented First Nations from directly acquiring land in the province. Under the new legislation, which took effect on Tuesday, First Nations are no longer required to establish a proxy entity like a corporation or trust to purchase land. This change, aimed at reducing barriers and costs, is seen as a significant step towards reconciliation and eliminating colonial-era restrictions. According to Hugh Braker of the First Nations Summit of British Columbia, the previous requirement for a proxy entity was a relic of colonial times and hindered First Nations’ ability to provide housing and healthcare facilities to their members. The new law is expected to streamline land acquisition processes for First Nations and expedite community development initiatives.

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