Speech for The Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Indigenous Services at the BC Joint Gathering


January 23, 2019
Westin Bayshore
Vancouver, British Columbia

I would like to start by thanking Grand Chief Ed John for his kind introduction and for inviting me to this event. I would also like to thank Elder Bob Baker for his thoughtful opening prayer.

I am honoured to be here with you today. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with all of you as we gather here on Coast Salish Territory of Musqueam Indian Band, Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and Squamish Nation.

I want to thank the First Nations Leadership Council for collaborating with Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations staff to co-host this seventh Joint Gathering.

I would like to acknowledge the presence of:

  • Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who I met with on my first day in this new role,
  • First Nation Leadership Council members,
    • Congratulations to Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, who is celebrating his 20th year as President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, as UBCIC celebrates its 50th anniversary.

I would like to recognize:

  • Chiefs, council members, administrators from First Nations communities from across BC and acknowledge those who traveled great distances to be here today,
  • Representatives from First Nations institutions and organizations,
  • Senior officials from the federal and provincial governments.

I am honoured and humbled to take on this critical portfolio as the second Minister of Indigenous Services. Minister Jane Philpott did extraordinary work in a short period of time – earning respect for the trust she developed and the results she delivered.

I want to reassure you that I am determined to continue the tremendous momentum that is already underway. My goal is to hit the ground running and keep delivering results.

It was important for me to come to BC so early on in my new role. The transformational work you are doing in areas such as education and healthcare is exemplary.

I intend to continue to work in partnership with you to build on what has been achieved in the last year and a half. This is not the time to slow down. This is the time to demonstrate the government’s resolve to follow through on our promises to First Nations.

By working together with Indigenous partners, significant progress has been made in our five priority areas, including:

  • education;
  • health care;
  • child and family services;
  • infrastructure; and,
  • economic prosperity.

But we all know that much remains to be done to close socio-economic gaps, improve service delivery, and improve the lives of First Nation peoples in Canada.

BC First Nations have the reputation of being innovative, collaborative, progressive and solutions-focused. You are leading the way on things like:

  • First Nations land management;
  • Exercising First Nations jurisdiction over child and family services;
  • First Nations control over First Nations education; and,
  • Moving towards ten-year grants.

Let me spend a few minutes on child and family well-being.

It is simply unacceptable that Indigenous children across the country continue to be taken away from their families, communities and cultures and placed in foster care in private homes.

On November 30th, Minister Philpott – together with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, and Métis National Council President Clément Chartier – announced that the Government of Canada intends to introduce co-developed legislation on Indigenous child and family services in early 2019.

I want to assure you that this continues as a top priority. We have the full support of the Prime Minister to introduce it in the House of Commons very soon. Right now, we are continuing to engage with Indigenous partners, as well as provinces and territories, to move this forward as quickly as possible.

This proposed legislation marks a turning point in addressing this humanitarian crisis in Canada. The support of BC First Nations leaders and technical experts has been instrumental in this co-developed legislation process.  I look forward to working closely with you as we move forward.

We know that Indigenous children and families need to stay together. We also know that First Nations children need access to quality education so they can fulfill their potential. Later today, I will celebrate the signing of the BC Tripartite Education Agreement, with the First Nations Education Steering Committee and the provincial government.
The BC First Nations Education System is the result of more than 20 years of hard work and dedication by BC First Nations. It delivers quality education for First Nations students who are in First Nations-run, provincial, or independent schools. It is one of the strongest examples of First Nations control of First Nations education.

Senator Murray Sinclair has said that “education got us into this mess and education will get us out of it.” We must work together to fulfill the right of First Nations children to access quality and culturally appropriate education, as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that 2018 was a difficult year for First Nations with floods, landslides and windstorms impacting many BC communities.

The devastating wildfire season also surpassed 2017 as the worst on record, impacting many First Nations. Tahltan First Nation was one of the hardest hit. I appreciate Chief McLean, along with Chiefs Nooski and Alphonse, taking the time to share their recommendations on emergency management with this Gathering.

Your strength and courage in the face of tremendous adversity is inspirational. I want you to know that the Government of Canada stands with you – and other First Nations communities affected by emergencies – as you rebuild and recover.

There is much more work to be done to fully include First Nations in the emergency management system and to ensure you have the necessary resources to protect and support your communities.

I know that work is well underway on a tripartite emergency management Memorandum of Understanding. l will do my utmost to ensure your communities have the resources you need going forward.

I stand before you today ready and wanting to listen. I hope to build strong, respectful relationships with you. I look forward to understanding your priorities and working together to implement solutions that benefit your communities.

So, let’s open the floor to comments.  As I am only ten days into my mandate, I may not be able to answer all your questions. Catherine Lappe, BC Regional Director General, is here to assist. I look forward to learning from you.

Thank you.

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