Questioning Quebec's commitment to Ottawa's new Indigenous framework
First Nations leaders are welcoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's pledge to revamp the federal government's relationship with Indigenous Peoples, but some Quebec chiefs fear their province's obstructionist approach to self-determination could hinder the process.
Self-governance requires access to lands and resources, which falls under provincial jurisdiction, said Ghislain Picard, regional head of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador.
Indigenous leaders have serious concerns about the willingness of Quebec to go along with the federal government, he said Thursday.
"We were always faced with a (provincial) government that does as little as it can to advance this whole notion of Indigenous rights and Indigenous title," he said, adding that some Indigenous groups in Quebec have been at the negotiating table for up to 40 years.
The Quebec government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Picard's comments came following a meeting of Quebec and Labrador chiefs at which several federal ministers offered more details on the Liberal government's proposal to create a new legislative framework aimed at recognizing and implementing Indigenous rights.
Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, said consultations will include rethinking what constitutes a nation, a term whose current definition dates back to the mid-1990s and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
The federal government recognizes 634 Indian bands in Canada, which fall within 50 to 60 First Nations.
Bennett described the treaty negotiation process as flawed in the way it pits the government against Indigenous groups through long and costly court battles, and she stressed First Nations should not have to surrender or extinguish their rights in exchange for land or money.
"We believe that rights exist. You shouldn't have to fight for those rights in court," she said.
While developing a new framework will not involve reopening the constitution, Bennett said some of the powers under consideration fall under the purview of the provinces, including control of certain parcels of Crown land.
"There is no question that the collaboration and co-operation of provinces and territories will be imperative," she said in an interview.
The minister will travel to Atlantic Canada to canvass First Nations for their input.
Trudeau has said a new framework, which is expected to be unveiled later this year, will help First Nations who are interested to reach self-government and break away from the Indian Act, which Bennett described as a straitjacket.
"We want your rights protected, but not in that paternalistic way that the Indian Act still restricts you," she said.