JERAD GALLINGER/CC FLICKR

Federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett spoke at Trinity College on October 28. The event was part of a series called Conversations with the Chancellor Bill Graham; it consisted of a brief introduction made by Trinity Provost Mayo Moran, a discussion period, and a question and answer period. A reception was held when the formal event finished.

Students, alumni, and special guests were in attendance; a variety of topics related to Indigenous affairs were discussed at length.

Carolyn Bennett has been in politics for many years, beginning her career serving in the House of Commons in 1997. Bennett is currently a Liberal Member of Parliament for the riding of Toronto — St. Paul’s.

Trinity College Chancellor Bill Graham is also an experienced politician for the Liberal Party, serving as Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre-Rosedale from 1993–2007 and holding senior cabinet portfolios under Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, as well as the party’s interim leader.

The conversation between the two political figures began by broadly discussing the historical and current relationship between the government and Indigenous peoples.

Bennett stressed that, in the past, the relationship has been blatantly paternalistic towards Indigenous peoples. However, Bennett stated that under the leadership of Trudeau, every minister’s mandate reiterated that “the relationship between Indigenous people and Canada is the most important relationship.” Bennett explained, “It is about changing the nature of the relationship.”

Bennett suggested that, in changing the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian government, a “Nation-to-Nation” approach is required.

Bennett hopes that, in the future, the people working for her department would “be hired by the First Nations to go through that same work.” In response to her employees potentially working for Indigenous peoples at some point, Bill Graham made a joke, saying, “They’ve gone over to the enemy.” Bennett responded swiftly saying those attitudes are in the past. She added, “We actually see this as a partnership.”

The preservation of Indigenous languages was also discussed; Bennett reiterated that the endangered languages and the extreme importance of Indigenous education are the responsibility of the government.

Throughout the conversation, specific examples of Indigenous concerns and issues arose. There was discussion on pipelines, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.

Additionally, the history of the residential school system in Canada was mentioned. Bennett noted the effect of “intergenerational trauma” and that there’s “not a capacity to deal with this in a way that could break the cycle, in terms of the intergenerational effects of this.”

Following the conversation with Graham, one attendee asked about the potential for re-Indigenizing urban spaces where people are often distanced from Indigenous issues. Bennett acknowledged that the “Indigenous population in Toronto is the biggest Indigenous population in the country… but they’re totally invisible.”

In terms of resolution, Bennett said that the government must change their “urban-Aboriginal strategy.” Bennett explained how this relies on a “commitment to reconciliation.”

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