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Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones
Québec, July 23, 2005

Aboriginal affairs and Québec’s development:
Taking a new step together

Geoffrey Kelley
Minister for Native Affairs

Over the last few months, certain events have marked aboriginal affairs in Québec. More specifically, the recent questions raised in the public arena have rekindled discussions on contemporary aboriginal issues. In light of the developments at the legal, economic and social levels, we cannot help but note that we are at a turning point in the evolution of our relations with aboriginal peoples.

A relationship that has been in the making for more than four centuries
To grasp this reality fully, I feel that it is useful to take a look back at our collaboration to understand where we now stand and where we want to go. By drawing on a common past marked by more than 400 years of living side by side, we are today able to take up the challenges associated with participation of aboriginal peoples in Québec’s development.

Over the centuries, relations between aboriginal peoples and the descendants of the first European settlers have taken on various forms, depending on the periods and the groups in question. Indeed, aboriginal peoples first began to make their voices heard in the early 1970s. The advent of major economic development projects prompted aboriginal peoples to organize to defend their rights. In response, governments had to adapt their practices to further take into account the needs and aspirations of aboriginal peoples. In this respect, the signing in 1975 of the first modern treaty in Canada, i.e., the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement, represents a milestone, namely that of the development of a collective awareness of the interests and rights of aboriginal peoples in relation to the development of Québec’s territory.

From this point in time on, and following the constitutional recognition of aboriginal rights in 1982, Québec took part in other negotiations. Since then, legal precedents, along with the recognition of the aboriginal nations and aboriginal rights by the National Assembly in 1983 and 1985, laid the foundations for discussions, the aim of which has been to enter into agreements. Indeed, over the last 30 years, successive governments of Québec have all opted for the path of dialogue, basing their approaches on respect for the rights and interests of each party.

Following along these lines, Québec Premier Jean Charest and Mr. Ghislain Picard, Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador, signed a mutual political commitment on July 17, 2003, establishing a joint council of elected representatives. The reaching of an agreement-in-principle with the Innu communities of the North Shore and Saguenay - Lac-Saint-Jean in March 2004 was also in keeping with this spirit. This historic moment demonstrated a true willingness to base our relations with aboriginal peoples on new foundations.

Challenges of the 21st century: adjustments that are both desirable and necessary
The government of Québec is more convinced than ever that the path of negotiation holds the greatest promise. Over the years, agreements entered into have proven beyond all doubt that dialogue offers true possibilities for establishing lasting and beneficial partnerships, both for aboriginal peoples and for all Quebecers. I am convinced that our ability to come to agreement will have a major impact on the future development of our society.

While we have met with success, we nevertheless still have to improve our relations. Indeed, in the major negotiation files, just as in the other files in which we are called upon to collaborate with aboriginal peoples, the conclusion is unavoidable: We need to follow up on the efforts made to date and our commitment in this respect is clear. We intend to do so by holding discussions around a common table.

Our determination is all the more justified given that in November 2004, two rulings handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Haïda and Taku River cases marked a new stage in the recent evolution of relations between aboriginal peoples and governments. In its decisions, the highest court of the land invited the state to reconsider its approaches for consulting and accommodating aboriginal peoples when development projects affect territories to which they have laid claim.

Already actively working to modernize its practices, Québec intends to adopt a responsible attitude in response to the recent Supreme Court rulings. In so doing, we hope to improve the relations that government departments and bodies have with aboriginal communities. As things currently stand, the frameworks proposed by the Haïda and Taku River rulings give us the opportunity today to better define how we plan to develop the territory of Québec in a harmonious manner while taking into account the current reality.

Toward the definition of a true consultation policy
For this purpose, on June 23rd of this year, Québec Premier Jean Charest and my colleagues of the Cabinet entrusted me with the mandate of setting up a working group to develop an aboriginal consultation policy. A special representative, who will be appointed shortly, will propose a consultation policy, along with transitional measures prior to its adoption.

As Minister for Native Affairs, I personally insist that aboriginal peoples be afforded every opportunity to participate in the work that will involve the departments most concerned. I am confident that we will come up with an approach that will be in the best interest of all the citizens of Québec, and I am convinced that we will know how to make the most of the proposals put forward by the Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador regarding the consultation as well as the steps taken in the other Canadian provinces.

Forum on the Social and Economic Development of the First Nations
While consultation is currently at the heart of aboriginal concerns, aboriginal peoples must also consider several challenges to ensure their full development and to offer a better future to the generations to come. The Forum on the Social and Economic Development of the First Nations, slated for May 17, 18 and 19, 2006, will be a major springboard in the efforts to support the development of the communities.

I am particularly happy and proud that this public discussion, the first of its kind in Québec, will be a tremendous opportunity to hold direct discussions with the members of the 55 aboriginal communities and the various partners, so that together we can find solutions with spinoffs that will benefit everyone.

Ensuring the future of our young people
While aboriginal questions are complex, they prompt us to multiply our partnerships and strengthen the historic collaboration that unites us. As we take a decisive step in our relations with aboriginal peoples, we have a mutual duty to do everything in our power to arrive at a more harmonious relationship that will allow everyone to achieve self-fullfilment in a spirit of respect.

Each time that we settle a dispute through discussions and that we reach an agreement, we are contributing a little more to creating real possibilities for collective success. In aboriginal communities, the proportion of young people who will soon be of working age is twice as high as for Québec as a whole. In face of this situation, we have a duty to take up: that of preparing the future of these young people. We have an appointment with the rising generation, and it is up to us to actively take part in this endeavour.

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Signature gouvernementale
Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones
905, avenue Honoré-Mercier, 1er étage - Québec (Qc)  G1R 5M6 - 418 643-3166
Last update :July 23, 2005
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