Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a ceremony honoring Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs assembly in Gatineau, Quebec. Chiefs angry over Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr's comments about using the military and police during protests nearly walked out, but attendees gave Trudeau a standing ovation instead after his speech emphasizing reconciliation.

Trudeau Addresses Assembly of First Nations With Message of Reconciliation

Daniel Mesec

Despite high tensions on the first day of the Assembly of First Nations in Gatineau, Quebec, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reassured indigenous leaders of his commitment to rebuild nation-to-nation relationships and unveiled the new Indigenous Language Act.

The new law will ensure the preservation and revitalization of First Nations, Métis and Inuit languages across Canada, some which are already in jeopardy of going extinct.

“We know all too well how residential schools and other decisions by governments were used as a deliberate tool to eliminate indigenous languages and cultures,” Trudeau said. “If we are to truly advance reconciliation, we must undo the lasting damage that resulted.”

Prime Minister Trudeau received a standing ovation for his remarks, but he was also playing a bit of damage control.

Earlier this week at a meeting with the Alberta Enterprise Group, Natural Resource Minister Jim Carr had said that “defence forces” could be called in to deal with unruly pipeline protests. Carr told the Edmonton Journal that if pipeline protests in Canada were to escalate to an unlawful level, police and other authorities would be used.

“If people choose for their own reasons not to be peaceful, then the government of Canada, through its defence forces, through its police forces, will ensure that people will be kept safe,” Carr said.

The comments were taken by some as a direct threat to those who disagree with the federal government’s stance on pipelines and had some indigenous leaders planning to walk out of the assembly.

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However, the crisis was averted when Carr called indigenous leaders to apologies, including Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Kanesatake Mohawk Council, before the Assembly of First Nations convened.

“It shows strength of character for the minister to do something like that,” said Grand Chief Simon. “I really appreciated his call. Many chiefs were going to follow me out that door. I explained to him that being a Mohawk from Oka and hearing a minister talk about military intervention, it strikes a very negative chord in me.”

Oka, Quebec was the site of a standoff between First Nation protesters and the Canadian Military in 1990 over a land dispute which remains a contentious issue between Canada and First Nation relations.

In his closing remarks Prime Minister Trudeau remained committed to his promise of reconciliation, although fractured at times, Trudeau reiterated his desire to move forward in rebuilding Canada’s relationship with Indigenous communities.

“We must together show Canadians we’re working in unison to correct historical wrongs and continuing intergenerational trauma that affects so many indigenous peoples,” Trudeau said.

“You don’t need me to tell you how much more work still needs to be done. Our government remains committed to make meaningful and timely progress on the issues that matter most to you and your communities.” 

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