Inuit org drops support for bill proposing reconciliation oversight body in Canada

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed said his board has changed its position on Bill C-29. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Natan Obed says Bill C-29 does little to enforce accountability, could damage work with Ottawa

The national organization representing Inuit is withdrawing its support from a federal government bill that would create a national reconciliation oversight body.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President (ITK) Natan Obed told CBC News he received direction from his board on Tuesday to change the organization’s position on Bill C-29 — legislation to establish a national council for reconciliation.

Obed said ITK fears the reconciliation body created by the bill could undermine ongoing Inuit work to build a direct relationship with the federal government and advance Inuit rights and interests.

“We believe this could be detrimental,” Obed said.

Obed plans to bring up the issue directly with cabinet ministers on Thursday during an Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee meeting in Ottawa.

He said the bill as it stands also does little to make the federal government accountable for fulfilling its obligations on reconciliation.

The bill aims to create a not-for-profit corporation with nine to 13 directors who would report to Parliament annually on the state of reconciliation and make recommendations.

The Liberals tabled C-29 last June to satisfy Call to Action 53 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission urged Ottawa to establish an independent national body to provide oversight for the federal government’s work on rebuilding the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Crown.

The bill, which is sponsored by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, is expected to go to third reading in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller looks on as Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu speaks in the foyer of the House of Commons. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In a statement sent to CBC News, Miller’s office said it remains committed to implementing Bill C-29.

“We respect ITK’s decision and will continue working principally through the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, in the spirit of the Inuit Nunangat Policy, to ensure Inuit priorities are addressed,” said the statement.

“We acknowledge ITK’s concerns, but wish to reiterate that the National Council for Reconciliation will in no way detract from the crucial work that we need to do as part of the Inuit-Crown Partnership.”

Obed said the ITK worries the bill will be used by the federal government to avoid creating an Indigenous human rights tribunal, long called for by the Inuit, which would have more enforcement teeth.

He said Bill C-29’s proposed council also would force Inuit — who have constitutionally protected Indigenous rights — to sit with organizations that are not “rights-holders.”

Obed said he’s worried the bill could compel the government to “pick and choose” the people it listens to and how it does its work.

“We also are concerned that this confuses the reconciliation agenda,” Obed said.

Justice Murray Sinclair, centre, and Commissioners Chief Wilton Littlechild, left, and Marie Wilson pull back a blanket to unveil the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada on the history of Canada’s residential school system in Ottawa on Dec. 15, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

If the proposed legislation passes as-is, Obed said, the ITK may not appoint a director to the council.

“There could be a scenario where this legislation passes and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami does not wish to participate in its implementation,” he said.

“But that is a long way away and I hope we don’t get to that space.”

Work on co-developing legislation

The ITK’s position reversal is one of many matters Obed intends to address with federal cabinet ministers today during an Inuit-Crown partnership meeting.

Obed said he also wants to sign an agreement with the federal government that spells out how Ottawa works with the ITK on co-developed legislation.

“It has been debatable on the Inuit side on whether or not we would describe how we’ve interacted with the federal government as co-developed,” Obed said.

“These terms are largely subjective and we wanted to make them more clear.”

Bill C-29 aims to fulfil Call to Action 53 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which urges Ottawa to create a national oversight body to track the federal government’s commitment to reconciliation. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal government claimed it co-developed Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages, with Indigenous Peoples. Obed said that bill “absolutely was not” co-developed in that way.

Obed said he hopes the government can commit to a set of principles that guide the relationship and avoid similar situations from repeating.

“How are these co-developed pieces of legislation considered after they are entered into the first reading stage?” Obed said.

“If they are amended, what are the ways in which Inuit still continue to work with the federal government on ensuring that the legislation meets the end goal of co-development?”

Urban Indigenous organization says it’s excluded

While ITK is threatening to opt out of the reconciliation council, one organization claiming to represent urban Indigenous people says it wants to be part of it.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) says its exclusion from the table by the federal government again puts urban Indigenous voices on the margins.

“This extraordinary move by the Liberals is a slap in the face to thousands of survivors who live off-reserve,” said CAP National Chief Elmer St. Pierre in a media statement.

“For seven years now, the Liberals have trumpeted the importance of reconciliation, but this exclusion reveals their true colours.”

Related stories from around the North: 

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