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Kristen Henry on Hunger Strike for rights




The Hon. Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister of Canada

Office of the Prime Minister

80 Wellington Street

Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

March 29, 2016

RE: Implementation of Commitments to First Nations

Dear Prime Minister;

I write to express my concerns regarding the signals you seem to be sending the Canadian people about your commitment to reconcilliation and justice with and for First Nations in Canada. I was very heartened to read the following statement in your ministerial mandate letters to every minister:

“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.”

As a committed Unitarian Universalist minister, I have been concerned about justice for and reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples for some years and we never seem to make any actual progress. I had hoped that, as you made major decisions, we would see a commitment to real implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) report and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Specifically, I hoped to see:

  • real consultation and a commitment to gaining the consent of aboriginal people before moving forward with development. (Free, prior, and informed consent) and

  • Aggressive moves forward to rectify the injustices in education, housing, and water.

So far, it would appear that we will not be having a serious review of the pipeline approval process, and those projects which are already “in the pipeline” are moving forward without proper environmental reviews. This is a big disappointment, particularly in relation to Energy East, Line 9, and Kinder Morgan pipelines.

It has come to my attention that Kristen Henry is on hunger strike to defend the Peace River Valley from unwanted development. She has not eaten since March 13th and has reached the point where she will be causing herself potentially permanent harm. The Treaty 8 First Nations have not provided their free, prior, and informed consent to the Site C Dam. Development of this project should not move forward until there is a full discussion with the Treaty 8 First Nations. They have a legitimate viewpoint that keeping the valley intact would not only sustain the biodiversity of the land and the lifestyle and culture of the First Nations, it would also provide potentially food for one million people because of what agrologist Wendy Holm refers to as “its unique micro-climate, alluvial soils, and access to water.” This is a significant loss when we are facing a future of food insecurity.

Prime Minister, I am not asking you to agree with everything that we all ask of you. I don’t expect that environmentalists or First Nations advocates will win every negotiation on every point. However, I do believe that it is important that you send a signal that you take these negotiations sincerely and do not just pay lip-service to them. Keep your promises around process. Implement the policy of full consultation with First Nations before development proceeds. Halt the Site C Dam development until you have the prior consent of the Treaty 8 First Nations. Halt the NEB pipeline review process until there is a full environmental review according to the new procedures you have promised to develop.

Similarly, I am concerned that your recent budget does not send clear signals that education funding for First Nations children on reserve will be equalized compared to provincial per capita funding levels, including funding for special needs children. There is absolutely no excuse for funding First Nations children to a lower level than other children. This is not a question of money, or how much more money you have allocated this year. This is a question of justice and equality. There should be no difference, period. I had hoped to see you correct that injustice immediately but I understand that you have back ended the funding so that it won’t really come into play until year 4 of your First term or perhaps even after this first term. If you are so unlucky as to lose power in 4 years, it may happen that we may never achieve equal funding for First Nations children. This would be a tragedy for all Canadians. If you are working steadily towards equality, you need to tell Canadians what you are doing.

I am equally concerned that we address the issues of First Nations housing and water. My hope is that we will focus on providing renewable energy solutions for First Nations on reserve. I like Manitoba’s strategy of replacing electric heat with geothermal, and of training unskilled Aboriginal workers to retrofit housing for energy efficiency using social enterprises. I’d like to see combinations of solar, wind and geothermal energy powering Northern reserves. Your policy to deal with climate change by creating jobs in green infrastructure is a good one. I’d like to see people living in houses especially designed for Northern land and weather conditions, and built by Aboriginal people themselves. You have increased the funding for First Nations in this budget. I hope it will be clearly emarkeed toward these goals, based on the direct involvement and approval of the First Nations people themselves. It is time we move beyond the paternalistic Department of Indian Affairs in command and control.

I do want to congratulate you on your immediate and timely moves to enter into consultation with Aboriginal families across Canada in order to design and implement an inquiry on murdered and missing aboriginal women. May that process go well for you and may the search for truth and healing begin for both our Aboriginal families and our law enforcement agencies.

It must be our goal to be well on our way to implementing the TRC report as fully as possible before the end of your first term. I want you to know, Canadians are paying attention and we are committed to the reconciliation process. In the meantime, please take a personal look into the situation of the Site C dam project and Kristen Henry’s hunger strike. First Nations are in a life and death struggle with Canadians for their relationship with the land and their culture. We don’t want a death on our hands and we do want full consultation with Treaty 8 First Nations.

Together in Faith,

Rev. Frances Deverell

Retired Unitarian Universalist Minister serving in the community.

Cc The Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

The Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development

The Hon. Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources

The Hon. Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment

The Hon. MaryAnn Mihychuk, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour,

The Hon. Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities

The Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Chair of the Climate Change Committee

House of Commons,

Ottawa, Ontario

K1A 0A6

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