On February 15, the Manitoba Metis Federation announced that first time Métis homebuyers will be eligible for up to $17,500 to purchase their first home in Manitoba. The program, called the “Metis First Time Home Purchase Program” is an attempt to right past wrongs by the Government of Canada towards Métis living in the Red River Valley. President David Chartrand calls it an example of “reconciliation in action”.
This initiative is part of a greater Indigenous housing strategy where, for the first time in Canadian history, there is a distinction-based Indigenous housing strategy for Métis, First Nations and Inuit. The Housing strategy will allocate $500 million to the Métis, $600 million to First Nations and $400 million to the Inuit for housing in the upcoming years. These amounts are not nearly enough to make a dent in the housing backlog in Indigenous communities across Canada but, together with other funding sources from other government departments, it is the greatest amount of dollars ever invested in Indigenous housing since Confederation.
The SNC-Lavalin controversy has prompted reporters, editorial writers and pundits alike to write extensively about their perception that this was the end of reconciliation and there was a lack of progress and trust on all things Indigenous. However, a closer look at what is actually occurring reveals the opposite.
Since being elected in 2015, PM Justin Trudeau & the Liberal federal government have invested close to $17 billion of NEW money into key Indigenous initiatives across Canada. The vast majority of this new funding has supported Indigenous-led investments in education, health, infrastructure, child and family services and restructuring a new fiscal relationship.
In Manitoba, this translates to $268 million for five new schools in remote First Nations, meaning over 2600 students will no longer have to leave their home communities for education. It means providing high speed internet to 48 First Nation communities. It also means $200 million for a new health facility at Norway House and over $120 million for improved health facilities and processes across isolated territories. It also translates into a $154 million for a new “Advancing Reconciliation” agreement with the Manitoba Metis Federation, the result of a Nation-to-Nation negotiation. And last but certainly not least, we are proud to have supported the transfer of the Churchill rail line to a First Nations consortium, ensuring that that vital link for First Nations and Northern communities is operated by the people who understand and need it most.
Across Canada, 80 long term boil water advisories have been lifted since 2015, including 8 in Manitoba. There are 60 advisories left across Canada. All long term boil water advisories are scheduled to be removed by March 2021. In addition, the Federal government has doubled their investment to $20 million for Shoal Lake 40 First Nation’s Freedom Road. As a result, Freedom Road is near completion with a water distribution system to be installed shortly thereafter.
In a meeting I attended in 1997 with then-Mayor Susan Thompson and elder Mary Richard, the Mayor asked what the city can do to help Indigenous peoples? Mary Richard replied: “government can begin by simply respecting Indigenous people”. Our government has tried to do this.
Last week, PM Trudeau issued a long-awaited apology to the Inuit over Canada’s misguided and colonial tuberculosis policy from mid last century. It was the most recent apology from the PM for Canada’s maltreatment of Indigenous Peoples since Confederation. We know apologies are not enough. That is why apologies have also been accompanied by the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Commission, a bill protecting and enhancing Indigenous Languages, a new bill recognizing and affirming the paramountcy of Indigenous laws, custom and tradition in Indigenous child welfare. It also includes support for an NDP Private Members Bill on establishing a National day of recognition for residential school survivors. And in a historic development, simultaneous translation of Indigenous language is now available in the House of Commons, thanks to unrelenting work by the members from Winnipeg Centre, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, and from Ville-Marie — Le Sud-Ouest — Île-des-Sœurs, Marc Miller.
Our government’s commitment to reconciliation will never waiver. Reconciliation is greater than a political controversy and certainly greater than an individual. Non-indigenous people have as important a role to play in reconciliation as Indigenous peoples. Everyone has a stake in the outcome.
We understand that all of our investments and initiatives will not immediately solve the infrastructure deficit in Indigenous territories or overcome the lack of trust by communities in federal initiatives. But we also understand that we have reached this point by generations of governments (including Liberal ones) refusing to respect, listen and invest in First Nations, Métis and Inuit nations. It has taken Canada generations to get to this point. It will take generations to make things better. Our government is committed to working with Indigenous leaders to redress the errors of the past and to dismantle the colonial Indian Act. Our government is committed to reconciliation for the long term.