Carolyn Bennett, Canada's new Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, being sworn in on November 4, 2015, appointed by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Justin Trudeau’s Mandates: Reconciliation, Compliance With U.N. Declaration and an MMIW Inquiry


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has instructed his new minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett to do what First Nations, Métis and Inuit have been urging for years: Reset the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Canadian government.

“I made a personal commitment to bring new leadership and a new tone to Ottawa,” Trudeau said in his letters of mandate to each cabinet member, released publicly on Friday November 13. “We made a commitment to Canadians to pursue our goals with a renewed sense of collaboration. Improved partnerships with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments are essential to deliver the real, positive change that we promised Canadians. No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.”

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Trudeau also instructed his two indigenous cabinet members, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Hunter Tootoo—the ministers of Justice and Fisheries and Oceans, respectively. 

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Wilson-Raybould is tasked with collaborating with Bennett to develop a national inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women, and to “address gaps in services to Aboriginal people and those with mental illness throughout the criminal justice system” in conjunction with Bennett and other ministers, and to find ways to reduce the high rate of indigenous incarceration, which is much higher than that of the general population.

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Tootoo is directed to work with Indigenous Peoples as well as other groups to manage the three oceans bordering Canada in a sustainable way. In his letter to Tootoo, Trudeau said he should also work to implement provisions of the Cohen Commission that studied salmon stocks in the Fraser River system.

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In Bennett’s letter, Trudeau outlined governmental commitments to transparency, gender parity and the representation of Indigenous Peoples and members of minority groups in leadership positions.

“As Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, your overarching goal will be to renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples,” Trudeau wrote. “This renewal must be a nation-to-nation relationship, based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. I expect you to re-engage in a renewed nation-to-nation process with Indigenous Peoples to make real progress on the issues most important to First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit communities—issues like housing, employment, health and mental health care, community safety and policing, child welfare, and education.”

No sooner had he done so, than Bennett turned around and gave her department a July 1, 2017—the 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding—deadline for showing solid results of their reconciliation work.

“At the core of our work is reconciliation,” said Bennett in a speech quoted by the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN). “As our prime minister said, reconciliation is the unfinished business of Confederation. It must be central to all we do. Before July 1, 2017, we have to show we have accomplished something so we can go forward with our heads held high in a way that we can embark on the next 150 years of Canada in the way we can all feel proud.”

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