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Ontario Hansard - 26-November2014

Hon. David Zimmer: I rise in the Legislature today—on Treaty 13 land and the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit—to speak to the importance of treaties and the treaty relationship between the province and treaty partners.

I would like to recognize some of the people in the gallery here today and their tireless work to promote a better understanding of treaties to this Legislature and indeed to all Ontarians. However, noticeably absent, sadly absent, is the late Grand Chief Stan Louttit, who passed away in June. Grand Chief Louttit was a staunch advocate for inherent and treaty rights throughout his 20-year political career. Grand Chief Louttit was an exceptional leader who will always be remembered for his dedication to improving the lives of the Mushkegowuk people living in northern Ontario.

Speaker, treaties and related agreements were made in Ontario throughout the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. They are still a part of what we do today. For instance, an agreement is currently being negotiated with the Algonquins of Ontario today, in the 21st century.

Treaties reflect the historic reality that First Nations were the original people and occupants of the land, and that they were never conquered. They represent solemn agreements to live together on this land through the formal exchange of promises that created rights and responsibilities for Canada, for Ontario and for First Nations. They formalize a relationship between the crown and the First Nations signatories based on the principles of trust and mutual respect, and were meant to be lasting and meaningful agreements.

Métis played a significant role in the province’s treaty history, acting as facilitators and interpreters during some of the treaty negotiations between First Nations and the crown. In addition, Métis historically received annuities under some treaties, and in one instance signed a treaty adhesion.

Ontario’s commitment to treaties is profound and is a public commitment, and it will remain a public commitment. Since 2005, we’ve been happy to convey that we respect aboriginal and treaty rights protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, passed in 1982. We are committed, and we remain committed, to meeting the province’s constitutional and other legal obligations in respect of aboriginal people. The province and all Ontarians benefit from these treaties, and we must recognize our obligations under them.

If I can be frank, the crown has not always upheld its obligations under the treaties. There are many historical examples when crown governments, including Ontario, did not consider treaty rights when making decisions. This created a strain on our relationships with First Nations. It communicated a lack of respect to our treaty partners.

Today, we are taking steps to address the legacies of these unfortunate actions and attitudes. On behalf of the province, I affirm this government’s commitment to work with our treaty partners. For example, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services is working closely with aboriginal partners on an Aboriginal Children and Youth Strategy that aims to do two things: increase the availability of culturally appropriate services, and enhance community control over service design and delivery. Together, through a respectful and meaningful dialogue, we will continue to come to better understandings about different perspectives on treaties, and we will work together on practical initiatives that support a strong treaty relationship.

An important foundation for all of this work is greater public awareness. Initiatives such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have led the way in shedding light on the darker episodes of our shared history. Most Ontarians are unfamiliar with the province’s treaty history. To begin to rectify this, we distributed the First Nations and Treaties map of Ontario to every public elementary and high school in the province, to begin raising awareness about treaties and our shared histories. We included with that map an instruction to the schools to set up a series of lectures and talks about what the map represented, what the map meant and what treaties are all about in Ontario. This is the first map of treaties published by the government since the 1940s, some 70 years ago.


We also plan to work with our First Nation partners to develop treaties-related curriculum materials, to help ensure that all Ontario students have a better understanding of First Nation communities, cultures and perspectives.

We launched a social media campaign on treaties that has quickly reached more than a million readers and continues to grow every day.

Today, I am proud to announce that we will be working with our partners on a motion to establish an annual treaties awareness day here in Ontario, to be held every year to promote awareness of treaties and the treaty relationship, particularly among students but also among all Ontarians. We will work with our treaty partners to identify a day to designate as the treaties awareness day, and I look forward to those discussions with the visitors in the Speaker’s gallery.

Treaties are the reason that Canada and Ontario exist as we know them today. Treaties were foundational for the development of this country, and treaties allow us to continue to live and work together in Ontario. As such, newcomers to Canada owe as much to the treaties as the descendants of the early settlers.

Ontario will continue to build a strong partnership based on mutual respect and fairness and a sensitivity to past difficulties.

Meegwetch, and thank you.

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