Federal government tables bill to create national reconciliation oversight body

Seven years after Honourary Chief Wilton Littlechild of the Maskwacis Cree Nation helped pen a recommendation calling for the creation of a national reconciliation oversight body, the federal government is finally moving to make it a reality.

It tabled Bill C-29 in the House of Commons on Wednesday, which would establish an independent, non-partisan council that would report annually to Parliament on the state of reconciliation and make recommendations to all levels of government and Canadian society.

“We need to know where we are today as far as reconciliation and how do we measure the advancement of reconciliation,” Littlechild said.

“There’s really a lot of encouraging, good initiatives that are underway right across Canada, across many sectors, but no one is monitoring that activity.”

Littlehead, a former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), led a transitional committee which made recommendations to Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller’s office on developing the bill. 

It lays the groundwork for the government’s response to TRC’s calls to action that urge Ottawa to strike a national council for reconciliation. 

Honourary Chief Wilton Littlechild of the Maskwacis Cree Nation recommended the creation of a national reconciliation oversight body, as part of the 94 calls to action from his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (Sam Martin/CBC)

In its 2019 budget, the government set aside $126.5 million for the council. 

Under the bill, the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and the transitional committee would select most of the nine to 13 directors for the oversight body on four-year terms.

The three national Indigenous organizations — Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council and the Assembly of First Nations — would also select a director each.

Two-thirds of the council must be Indigenous, under the proposed legislation.

Wording should be stronger, Littlechild says

The council would then be tasked with developing a multi-year national action plan on reconciliation, highlighting where reconciliation is working, and educating the public about the realities and histories of Indigenous peoples. 

It would also evaluate the implementation of the TRC’s 94 calls to action, which were released in 2015.

Littlechild told CBC News he’s encouraged by the bill’s introduction, but said the wording needs to be strengthened.

For example, part of the text mentions “efforts for reconciliation,” but Littlechild said the word “efforts” needs deletion. He says the bill should instead say “advance reconciliation” because it’s building on work that’s already laid a foundation. 

Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller sponsored the bill. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The text also states the council should obtain “relevant” information, which Littlechild says leaves the government to determine what is important or not. 

“We could’ve taken out those kind of words,” he said. 

Littlechild said the bill should’ve been co-drafted with Indigenous peoples.

‘Isn’t up to Canada to be grading itself’

Miller told CBC News the government is open to “perfecting” the bill.

He said a national reconciliation oversight body is needed since the House of Commons is a colonial institution.

“It isn’t up to Canada to be grading itself,” Miller said. “It’s really up to someone in an institution that is Indigenous-led that can hold us to account in a better fashion.”

Mitch Case, a regional councilor with the Métis Nation of Ontario, is part of the committee that made recommendations to the federal government for striking a national council for reconciliation. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Mitch Case, a member of the transitional committee from the Métis Nation of Ontario, says he hopes the council can hold opposition parties accountable for stalling progress on reconciliation.

“What I find so frustrating, as an Indigenous politician, is that so many things are not within our control,” said Case, who is a regional councillor for the Huron Superior Regional Métis community on the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario.

“We’re held hostage to the agenda of the government of the day, which is quite frankly inappropriate for nations that are self-governing and self-determining and have all those rights that are recognized internationally and in the Constitution.”

Case says he hopes the council will bring the country to a point where all governments and parties view the importance of reconciliation like they do with the Canada Health Act.

“I’m hoping that we’re creating momentum that becomes less dependent on the mood of the public or less dependent on a certain government that wants to do something or a certain government that just doesn’t care,” Case said. 

Mike DeGagné, president of he national Indigenous registered youth charity Indspire, was also on the committee that shaped the government’s proposed legislation. (Nippissing University)

The TRC called on the prime minister to respond to the council’s reports, but the bill puts that responsibility with the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations.

Mike DeGagné, president of the national Indigenous registered youth charity Indspire, hopes the council brings together two pieces of reconciliation: the political side on improving relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and finding success stories 

“This council will look, yes, at the political progress of reconciliation, but it will also encourage and recognize good work as it pertains to that sort of relational reconciliation,” he said.