What is Francois Legault afraid of?
Is its prestige more important than First Nations children?
C ike many others before me, I am now able to say that I spent more than half my life trying to get justice for our peoples, to recommend the right decisions, especially , to find the right contact. Why then, now that we are so close to our goal, I have the feeling that we are going back to the time when we did not care about Aboriginal peoples, and when governments were raining and shining.
I was at the forefront of the constitutional conferences of the 1980s, following the 1982 repatriation which enabled Canada to be among the first to enshrine in its constitution, not only our existence as peoples, but also our ancestral rights and from treaties. We know what follows … A constitutional process intended to provide clarity on the scope of these rights, particularly in terms of our autonomy, ended as quickly as it started. Governments, the federal government of course, but especially the provincial and territorial jurisdictions were in turn singled out by our leaders at the time, as being primarily responsible for this constitutional dead end. Among the conclusions of this failure,
Last week, Quebec indicated its intention to ask the Quebec Court of Appeal to rule on the constitutionality of the Act respecting First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, youth and families (C 92 ). I do not intend here, even if we agree that Quebec’s decision will lead us there, to launch the legal or constitutional debate which risks dawning. But, because we will go there, I would say that it is far from clear that Quebec has exclusive jurisdiction when it comes to our children. Above all, however, I would like to remind you that the First Nations will not give anyone the right and the responsibility to decide the future of our children. Those who claim that competence belongs to them isolate themselves in the illusion since the care and well-being of our children have never been entrusted to them. It is a privilege that belongs to the many parents of our nations who have seen a gradual erosion of their responsibility. Crumbling which is in fact the result of multiple attempts at assimilation on the part of governments. By way of illustration, I will only name here the creation of “reserves” and the Indian residential schools.
The argument put forward by the government of the province of Quebec, even if it were to represent an issue, in the context of a constitutional dispute, actually hides a much more retrograde position on the part of the Legault government. The latter, in a case defended a few months ago before the Federal Court of Appeal, put forward the argument that the First Nations cannot exercise governance responsibilities, by denying them the right to self-determination. In other words, there cannot be other governments in Canada than the federal and the provincial. The Legault government only respects the traditional positions of its predecessors.
Thus, when its ministers declare that Quebec is open to discuss the autonomy of the First Nations, it means that they are ready to open discussions on their terms and only, for a foreseeable purpose where the province will have delegated the level of authority to which it will have consented. We are very far even from the preamble to the federal law (C 92) which affirms the right of self-determination of indigenous peoples and indicates that the Government of Canada is committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Now that Quebec has announced its colors, we can expect a torrent of theories, sometimes legal, sometimes constitutional. Certainly, but the storm will be no less political. We have been investing for over three decades to take responsibility for the well-being of our children and we have never hesitated to denounce the flaws of a system that does not recognize their specificities, their identity and their culture. We have a sacred duty to allow them to have a future surrounded by their own.
But more importantly, they will remember that we never gave up to save their honor.