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Cariboo-Prince George candidates talk Indigenous issues

Tracy Calogheros – Liberal Party of Canada

Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples is one of the pressing issues facing this country today, says Liberal candidate for Cariboo-Prince George Tracy Calogheros.

“Whether we’re talking about needing to lift boil water advisories, or making sure that early education in reserves is equal to the kind of education we’re offering elsewhere, making sure that people are properly compensated when they’ve gone through inter-generational trauma and recognizing the kinds of impact that has, the Liberal Party of Canada has committed to building a new nation-to-nation relationship with our Indigenous People,” she told a crowd of about 350 people at an all-candidates forum at UNBC Wednesday.

She said in her work as CEO of The Exploration Place she has built a relationship with the Lheidli T’enneh that resulted in a memorandum of understanding between the two that makes the museum a designated repository for indigenous culture.

“If we don’t get everyone to the same starting line, we can’t expect everyone to contribute and there is a huge brain trust sitting there in our indigenous community,” she said. “We need to be able to get them to the table.”

She said it’s all about building a relationship that goes beyond a four-year election cycle.

Heather Sapergia – New Democratic Party

New Democrat candidate Heather Sapergia, who lived for a while on Haida Gwaii, said it was a learning experience.

“We’re all on a learning streak,” she said. “The NDP believes that First Nations need to be full partners in our government.”

She said government must institute the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the recommendations from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry.

“Indigenous reconciliation is absolutely in the basis of the Green Party platform,” said Green Party candidate Mackenzie Kerr.

Mackenzie Kerr – Green Party of Canada

She said the party also wants to institute the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry as well as embrace the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We also want to repeal the Indian Act,” she said. “We really believe it is a colonial, racist piece of legislation. If we repeal that, with Indigenous People at the helm, we can really move forward as a country.”

She added she was “disturbed” by the suggestion People’s Party of Canada for Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies that reserves should be privatized.

“(Reconciliation) needs to be on the front of our minds, and right now it is not,” she said.

Jing Lan Yang – People’s Party of Canada

People’s Party of Canada candidate for Cariboo-Prince George, Jing Lan Yang, said righting past wrongs is not what they are about.

“Injustices happened in the past,” she said. “We cannot rewrite history, but we want to build a new relationship built on mutual respect.”

She said the party wants to replace the Indian Act and treat Indigenous People the same as other Canadians, with the same responsibilities. She said the party wants to institute private property rights on reserve.

“Every year we spend $21 billion on aboriginal programs,” she said. “We want to make sure that funding actually goes to the people who need it the most. We want to respect Constitution and treaties … we need to think about the best interest of all Canadians.”

She added the People’s Party of Canada would use the Constitution to declare major projects in the national interest so as to avoid delays in construction.

Indigenous issues are a complex subject, said Conservative candidate Todd Doherty.

Todd Doherty – Conservative Party of Canada

“It’s (an issue) I’ve had a delicate dance with for the past four years,” he said. “I’ve sat across the way from a party and leaders across the way that put their hand across their heart and say they really care, but then stumble along the way. Our previous Conservative government put forward some measures, and we stumbled along the way too.”

However, he said, the nation needs to come to an understanding of exactly what reconciliation means.

“Reconciliation has become a buzzword,” he said. “It’s easy for a leader to stand up with their hand on their heart and tear trickling down their eye and say they’re doing this in the spirit of reconciliation.”

To him, he said, reconciliation isn’t about pitting First Nation against First Nation or First Nation against non-First Nation. It’s about finding a path forward.

“We have to first understand what reconciliation means,” he said. “We have to have our Indigenous Peoples around the table with us to tell us what does UNDRIP mean to them. If you ask, and I have, a handful of First Nations they all have different interpretations of that. I think it’s irresponsible for us to be able to stand up here and say we are going to develop First Nations policy when we don’t have First Nations with us.”

He said agreed with Calogheros in that it is one of the most pressing issues.

“It dictates everything,” he said.

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