Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Minister of Justice, is at the centre of the federal government's emerging policies on native affairs. And the Trudeau government is determined to bring major improvements to the lives of the indigenous peoples of Canada. In last fall's election, it made a number of very specific promises – such as pledging to adopt UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
That promise sounded as clear as can be, yet nearly a year after the election, it remains far from settled what the government meant by it, or what Ms. Wilson-Raybould is going to do about it. The former Conservative government felt UNDRIP could end up overriding existing constitutional arrangements – a concern that is not without foundation – and declined to enact it into law.
On Wednesday, Ms. Wilson-Raybould took part in an annual meeting of First Nations leaders and provincial cabinet ministers. She repeated something she's said before: that UNDRIP can't be simply inserted "word for word" into Canadian law.
Back in July, she spoke at the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations at Niagara Falls, saying that such "simplistic approaches" are "unworkable." That's probably true – though it's not quite what the campaigning Liberals promised.
Some interpret her speeches as striking reassuring notes of caution. But in fact these two speeches taken together in their entirety express a bewildering juxtaposition of radicalism and moderation.
At times, Ms. Wilson-Raybould seems to emphasize a thoroughgoing overhaul of Canadian-First Nations institutions. Rather than trying to figure out what the rights and powers in UNDRIP would mean for Canadian law, it is suggested that the dreadful Indian Act itself be torn apart and replaced with whole new sets of regimes for self-government.
"Our current realities do not align" with UNDRIP, she says, and "as such they must be systematically and coherently dismantled." Sometimes it sounds as if the Minister has reservations about UNDRIP because it doesn't go far enough. Sometimes, it sounds as if she's saying the opposite.
How the Liberals will go from where we are now, to "systematic dismantling," and then on to building something better, is as yet a mystery.