I received a letter from Thomas Mulcair in response to my letter to Prime Minister Harper. Mulcair enclosed the following Op Ed which was published in Ontario's Toronto Star, Page A15 on January 21st, 2013.
Face-to-face and nation-to-nation
With Idle No More we are witnessing a grassroots movement joining indigenous peoples and other Canadians in a long overdue conversation about repairing a broken relationship. That was supposed to be the purpose of the Crown-First Nations Gathering in Ottawa exactly a year ago. Unfortunately, it has become just one more broken promise.
While Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples do not speak with one voice, chiefs from coast to coast to coast, people from communities large and small, the Assembly of First Nations and hunger strikers on Victoria Island have all echoed the same message: We need a new relationship between the peoples of Canada.
When Europeans came to this land and interacted with the Indigenous people living here, they made treaties on a nation-to-nation basis. While Canada was still a colony, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, exactly 250 years ago, actually used the word "nations" to describe the indigenous peoples.
But this relationship has suffered from years of federal government policies based on segregation, and then assimilation. Policies that led to tragic social injustices and denied indigenous communities a full seat at the table where consensus could be built and where the rights of consent and consultation could be respected.
As a result of those misguided policies, shocking poverty is the norm in too many communities -- as are the many health and social ills that come as a consequence.
At a time when Canada's population is aging and labour shortages are growing, half of Canada's First Nations population is under the age of 25. Yet when it comes to education, on-reseve schools get far less funding than schools run by the provinces. This defies both fairness and common sense. Not only is the government failing to live up to its obligations, it is choosing a short-sighted approach that holds back our country's potential.
Canada must rethink its approach to resource development, so much of which occurs on territory either belonging to or claimed by First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. Rather than seeing aboriginal Canadians as opponents, governments -- federal, provincial and territorial -- must work in a respectful and collaborative way that shares both the work and the rewards.
The federal government has a legal duty, derived from the constitution Act and repeatedly reaffirmed by the courts, to consult and accommodate First Nations before passing legislation that affects aboriginal lands, waters and communities.
Instead, Conservatives have gutted the Navigable Waters Protection Act and weakened environmental protection laws. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's failure to follow through on his own obligations concerning aboriginal and treaty rights is at the root of our current crisis.
New Democrats consistently warned about how reckless it was to introduce fundamental changes to environmental protection laws in omnibus budget bills -- and then ram these sweeping changes through Parliament. Unfortunately, Conservatives turned their back on the obligation to consult with people affected by their changes and chose instead, as has been their habit, a divisive and confrontational approach.
New Democrats are committed to principles of meaningful consultation and real co-operation because we understand that Canada is a stronger place when we choose to work together. When that happens, change can be a unifying force instead of something that pits communities against each other.
It's time for a concrete plan from the federal government to fix this broken relationship. This plan must be developed through real consultations, so that First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities have the tools they need to grow and prosper beyond the colonial-era Indian Act. A plan with well defined goals, timelines for progress and measures to ensure accountability, on both sides.
The Canadian family shares a tremendous inheritance, but the Government of Canada has been a poor trustee.
It is not too late for the prime minister to rise above the petty partisanship that too often drives his government and change course. To begin a new dialogue with First Nation, Inuit and Metis peoples to replace the broken relationship he has helped create.
The federal government has a choice -- either act now and help realize the potential that exists within these dynamic young First Nation communities, or continue down the current path and alienate another generation of aboriginal leaders.
For fairness, and for the sake of future generations of all Canadians, New Democrats choose action.
Note: Thomas Mulcair is the Leader of the Offical Opposition New Democratic Party of Canada within the Government of Canada