Federal government introduces bill to create national reconciliation oversight body

Seven years after Honorary Chief Wilton Littlechild of the Cree Nation of Maskwacis helped draft a recommendation calling for the creation of a national reconciliation oversight body, the federal government is finally taking steps to make one reality.

He introduced Bill C-29 in the House of Commons on Wednesday, which would establish an independent, non-partisan council that would report annually to Parliament on the status of reconciliation and make recommendations to all levels of government and to Canadian society.

“We need to know where we are today in terms of reconciliation and how to measure the progress of reconciliation,” Littlechild said.

“There are really a lot of good and encouraging initiatives going on across Canada, in many sectors, but no one is monitoring this activity.”

Littlechild, a former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), led a transition committee that made recommendations to the office of Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller on the drafting of the bill.

It lays the foundation for the government’s response to TRC Calls to Action urging Ottawa to set up a national council for reconciliation.

Honorary Chief Wilton Littlechild of the Maskwacis Cree Nation has recommended the creation of a national reconciliation watchdog, as part of the 94 Calls to Action stemming from his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (Sam Martin/CBC)

In its 2019 budget, the government set aside $126.5 million for the council.

Under the bill, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and the transition committee would select most of the oversight body’s nine to 13 directors for four-year terms.

The three national Aboriginal organizations — Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council and the Assembly of First Nations — would also each select a director.

Two-thirds of the board must be Indigenous, under the proposed legislation.

Wording should be stronger, says Littlechild

The council would then be responsible for developing a multi-year national action plan on reconciliation, highlighting areas where reconciliation is working, and educating the public about the realities and stories of Indigenous peoples.

It would also assess the implementation of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action, which were released in 2015.

Littlechild told CBC News he was encouraged by the bill’s introduction, but said the wording needed to be strengthened.

For example, part of the text mentions “reconciliation efforts,” but Littlechild said the word “efforts” should be deleted. He says the bill should say “early reconciliation” instead because it builds on work that has already laid the groundwork.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller sponsored the bill. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The text also stipulates that the council must obtain “relevant” information, which Littlechild says leaves it up to the government to determine what is or is not material.

“We could have removed those kinds of words,” he said.

Littlechild said the bill should have been co-drafted with Indigenous peoples.

“It’s not in Canada to get grades”

Miller told CBC News the government is ready to “perfect” the bill.

He said a national reconciliation oversight body is needed since the House of Commons is a colonial institution.

“It’s not in Canada to rate itself,” Miller said. “It’s really up to someone in an Indigenous-run institution who can better hold us to account.”

Mitch Case, regional councilor for the Métis Nation of Ontario, is part of the committee that recommended the federal government create a national council for reconciliation. (Olivia Stefanovitch/CBC)

Mitch Case, a member of the Métis Nation of Ontario’s transition committee, says he hopes the council can hold opposition parties accountable for blocking progress toward reconciliation.

“What I find so frustrating, as an Indigenous politician, is that so many things are out of our control,” said Case, who is regional councilor for the Métis community in the Huron Superior region of the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario.

“We are being held hostage to the agenda of the current government, which is frankly inappropriate for nations that are self-governing and self-determined and have all of these rights that are recognized internationally and in the Constitution.”

Case says he hopes the council will bring the country to a point where all governments and parties see the importance of reconciliation as they do with the Canada Health Act.

“Hopefully we create a dynamic that becomes less dependent on the public mood or less dependent on a certain government wanting to do something or a certain government not caring,” Case said.

Mike DeGagné, president of national registered Aboriginal youth charity Indspire, was also on the committee that shaped the government’s bill. (Nipissing University)

The TRC asked the prime minister to respond to the council’s reports, but the bill gives that responsibility to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

Mike DeGagné, president of the national registered Indigenous youth charity Indspire, hopes the council will bring together two elements of reconciliation: the political side on improving relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and the search for stories of success

“This council will, yes, look at the political progress of reconciliation, but it will also encourage and recognize good work when it comes to this kind of relational reconciliation,” he said.

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