Indigenous leaders want 'meaningful action' from next gov't. Here are the promises so far

WATCH: Singh pledges to fight for Indigenous people's rights

It’s about time Indigenous peoples in Canada get “mutual respect” and “meaningful actions” from their government, says a former Manitoba grand chief.

In an interview with Global News on Friday, Sheila North, former Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak grand chief, said party leaders must present solid policies during this federal election to get that respect.

“That is a big issue that needs to be addressed by all parties, and follow it up with meaningful actions that will resonate right into the heart of Indigenous people, especially on remote communities; if we see a difference in remote communities, then we’ll know we’re actually making progress in achieving reconciliation in this country,” she said.

“Indigenous people in communities deserve the best of the best in this country, as all average Canadians do, and they expect that and they deserve that.”

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As Canada heads into its first full weekend of this federal election campaign, party leaders have been busy crisscrossing Canada making promises to voters. On Friday, some leaders began facing questions on Indigenous issues. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announced several new pledges, including his commitment to fight for justice for Indigenous Peoples.

While some parties don’t have election platforms out yet, here is what some have had to say on Indigenous issues.

Just before the election was called, the Liberals committed $321 million in new funding for programs that address some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to help search burial sites at former residential schools, and to support survivors.

Liberals said the new money will also help communities manage the sites, provide mental health, cultural and emotional services and will help build a national monument in Ottawa honouring the victims.

As part of their 2021 platform, Conservatives say they’ll fund investigations of all former residential schools in Canada, will give proper resources to honour those discovered, will provide resources for educating Canadians on the history of residential schools and will build a national monument in Ottawa honouring residential school survivors.

The NDP promise to also fund gravesite searches and establish memorials, and fund the maintenance, commemoration, reburial and protection of residential school cemeteries according to the wishes of Indigenous families, residential school survivors and communities.

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Furthermore, the NDP promise to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the system, will require churches and governments to hand over any records that could assist in the investigations and will fund community-driven solutions for healing.

When asked about how the Bloc Québécois plans to address Indigenous issues, a party spokesperson directed Global News to a June 21 news release with comments from Leader Yves-François Blanchet, which pointed to the federal government’s responsibility to “provide the financial needs required, so that truth can be revealed on these sites,” though offered no clear details.

“The federal government must also force religious authorities to open their books to possibly find traces of these disappearances,” he said.

“We owe a duty of history and memory to Indigenous peoples. We have to get started urgently, because now no one can claim that we did not know. As for us, let us humbly be the voice of our sisters and brothers of the grieving First Nations.”

Regardless of the promises, Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, wants to see efforts to investigate former residential schools sped up.

“These are people who were murdered in these institutions of genocide,” he said. “So we need to help facilitate how we do these searches as quickly as possible.”

In 2015, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised to lift all long-term drinking-water advisories by March 2021. He admitted in December the deadline would be missed, but lifted more than 100 long-term drinking water advisories over five years.

In March, Liberals committed to ending all advisories but did not set a new deadline. Roughly 50 long-term drinking-water advisories in 31 First Nations are still in place.

In their platform, Conservatives say they will end long-term drinking water advisories by targeting high-risk water systems and work with Indigenous communities to find new approaches to provide clean drinking water in the long term.

The NDP promises to fully fund the services and infrastructure for clean water in order to end water advisories. The party pledges to support Indigenous-led water management training programs and water system operations, and will fund on-reserve emergency management and prevention.

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“We have to continue to close those gaps, including that of offering drinking safe and affordable public drinking water for people,” said Cindy Woodhouse, Assembly of First Nations Manitoba regional chief.

“It’s such an important issue, and all Canadians have it and we have to make sure that we invest in First Nations communities and they know how to get the job done, so invest in them.”

The Green Party did not return a request for comment by time of publication.

In Manitoba Friday, Trudeau told reporters his party has demonstrated a commitment to reconciliation.

“We know how important it is that there be accountability, that there be full truth as well as reconciliation in the horrors of Canada’s past and our responsibility for having so many children from their homes and seeing so many of them end up in unmarked graves across the country,” he said.

“We have demonstrated our partnership with communities across the country to discover and identify those remains, to honour them, to remember them, but also to look for consequences and to seek to seek accountability in every possible way.”

Erin O’Toole shot back at Trudeau while in Manitoba as well.

“Mr. Trudeau, I know cares, but he never acts with a Conservative government,” he said.

“We will have more than just words, we will have action and I think all Canadians want to see action on reconciliation after the ocean of tears in the last few months.”

While campaigning in Cowessess First Nation, Saskatchewan on Friday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh discussed what an NDP government would do when it comes to Indigenous issues.

Some of his pledges on Indigenous issues, such as ensuring access to clean drinking water for everyone, are similar to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s, but Singh said the difference is he will work on reconciliation as someone who has been treated as lesser because of how he looks.

He said it is about Indigenous people being denied justice and he repeated his calls for a special prosecutor and that all residential schools’ records from institutions such as governments and churches be released.

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Whoever is elected next, North said reconciliation should involve Indigenous perspective.

“I think that we need to hear from the perspective of Indigenous people on what reconciliation should look like and where resources need to be focused on, and work with Indigenous people on a plan to tackle what we’ve all learned about what we’re going to do with all the mass graves that have yet to be discovered,” she said.

“What are we going to do with the healing process and the communities that are going to need our support at this time? Use that as a way forward for Canadians to finally understand why communities are the way they are … and then work together to find solutions that work for all of us,” North continued.

“I think they’re not complicated. They’re things that all Canadians want, (which) is good access to good jobs and access to good incomes and access to education and clean water and clean air.”

— with files from David Akin and The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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