Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling for nothing less than a total renewal of the relationship between Canada and First Nations.
“I will be your partner,” the PM told First Nations leadership at the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting in Gatineau Tuesday morning.
And that was music to the ears of local Sto:lo leaders, such as Doug Kelly, Clem Seymour, and Ernie Crey, who all said they have waited for this moment for a very long time.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly and Chief Seymour were in Gatineau, QC this week to hear the PM’s speech, and attend AFN meetings.
“It was like a real breath of fresh air,” said Seabird Chief Clem Seymour told The Progress.
“Sitting down and making education a priority, well that is the number one priority for us, the health of our people is number two, and the inquiry into missing and murdered women is number three.”
In terms of the MMIW inquiry, Seymour said, “the people want to know.”
Grand Chief Doug Kelly, who is chair of the Sto:lo Tribal Council, and First Nations Health Council, said the impact of the PM’s words was “to restore the dignity of First Nations peoples.”
Trudeau was hailed for saying he couldn’t do the work alone, and asked directly for help of First Nations.
“He offered to partner with us in the work of creating healthy, self-determining, independent First Nations communities and governments.
“That’s what took place today, and that’s why there was so much positive energy and good will in the room as a result.”
Grand Chief Kelly said he couldn’t help but think of past leadership’s struggles, as he listened to the speech, hearing pledges about education, lifting the two-per-cent cap, or implementing reconciliation recommendations.
“I was mindful of all of our past leaders who have been fighting and advocating for real change in these areas.
“I was thinking about leaders like Richard Malloway, Sam Douglas, Norm Francis, Joe Gabriel, and Archie Charles, who worked hard to provide a better world for their people, who would have had tears of joy just from hearing that speech.”
He was too young to have experienced the first wave of Trudeaumania from the PM’s father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, but the energy in the air for PM Justin Trudeau was electric.
“Being part of the crowd, the vibration of that energy is contagious. We were so excited by what he said.”
The PM’s pledge for an inquiry into MMI got a standing ovation and thunderous applause.
It was also clear to Grand Chief Kelly that the PM had done his homework.
“This is not coming out of the blue, he travelled extensively in the lead-up to becoming the leader of the Federal Liberals to meet with First Nations leaders and communities, and after, that he understood the issues,” said Kelly.
“He listened, he understood, and is now ready to take action.”
The inquiry is one example.
“He just didn’t talk about it, he is moving to fulfill several of those promises. It’s been a beautiful day,” said Kelly.
Newly elected Cheam Chief Ernie Crey called it a “welcome change,” to hear about PM Trudeau’s approach and that of his cabinet.
“It’s like night and day to the way it used to be.”
Chief Crey described years under the Harper government as “sitting in a dark, dank room with the drapes closed.
“We didn’t know what it could be like until someone came along and threw open the doors and windows.
“Suddenly it’s bright in here, and there’s lots of fresh air. It’s just that dramatic in my mind.”
Crey is optimistic now that an inquiry will definitely proceed, a cause he has fought for relentlessly.
“I am delighted an inquiry is going ahead, and the Sto:lo people will help government shape that inquiry, will give them advice and participate all the way through. We’re on-board,” said Crey.