TORONTO—The Ontario government yesterday signed a political accord with the Chiefs of Ontario that Premier Kathleen Wynne said will guide relations between First Nations and the province.
“As we’ve seen time and time again, when this relationship is not respected or when the trust is broken, the consequences are painful and long-lasting,” said Wynne.
The accord signed by Wynne and Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day in a ceremony at the legislature creates a formal bilateral relationship between the government and First Nations.
“We’ve taken an important step to renew the relationship between First Nations and Ontario,” Wynne said.
“I want to acknowledge that in some cases the relationship has to be built, that it’s not even a matter of rebuilding, but it’s a relationship that has to be built almost from scratch,” she added.
The accord affirms that First Nations have an inherent right to self-government and that the relationship with Ontario is based upon respect for that right.
But exactly what that means remained unclear.
“As I understand it, as we have discussions about education or social services, or as we talk about economic well-being and resource revenue-sharing, we need to define that self-government responsibility within each of those contexts,” said Wynne.
“I don’t think that there’s a blanket definition.”
Treaty rights and the right to self-government “really aren’t in question any more,” said Day.
“What’s in question is how do we start to rearrange the relationship with all levels of government to suggest that we have a rightful place at the table, and that we do need to start building those systems so that we can start taking responsibility in our communities.”
Treaties should have some sort of enforcement mechanism just like trade agreements between countries, added Day.
“These are the hard discussions that we’re going to have to have,” he admitted.
“We must create criteria on what that enforcement means.”
The deal also commits the government and First Nations to work together on a range of issues, including resource benefits sharing and jurisdictional matters.
It also calls for two meetings a year with the premier.
Day called it “the most
important collective milestone in modern times,” and said it will help advance First Nations’ jurisdiction and treaty rights “on our own terms.”
One of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to add details on treaties, residential schools, and First Nations’ history to Ontario’s education curriculum.
That will be done starting with a distribution of treaty maps to every public school, said Wynne.
“Everybody needs to understand the treaty promises our ancestors made that have since been broken, as well as our rights and responsibilities as treaty peoples today,” she stressed.
The premier said she also would apologize for the “horrors” of the residential schools and the “‘60’s scoop” of children from First Nations’ communities.
“We want to work with First Nations’ partners to make this apology formal—a full apology for these wrongs that I can deliver this fall on behalf of the government and all Ontarians,” Wynne said.