Ottawa has fallen back to 'managing the problem' with Indigenous Peoples, says Jody Wilson-Raybould

Former Liberal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told a First Nations justice conference Wednesday she is concerned the federal government is falling back into old patterns in its dealings with Indigenous Peoples.

Wilson-Raybould and former Indigenous services minister Jane Philpott were invited to speak by the First Nations Justice Council, a B.C. group working with the province to develop a First Nations justice strategy.

"Today and every day I do remain optimistic and hopeful," Wilson-Raybould told a room of more than 100 First Nations leaders and provincial officials gathered in Richmond for the two-day forum.

During her speech she spoke of the work she tackled as justice minister, including the directive she issued on how the Crown approaches civil litigation with Indigenous Peoples, and also spoke of the importance of recognizing and implementing Indigenous rights.

Despite her optimism, she also said she's worried about the way the federal government is moving ahead.

"My fear and disappointment is that despite sounding the alarm providing advice, pushing and challenging, sharing perspectives of lived Indigenous experience, providing a lens into the reality of being Indigenous, the federal government has fallen back once again to a pattern of trying to 'manage the problem' with Indigenous Peoples," she said.

"In my view it is never appropriate or proper to have as a goal managing the challenges and the byproducts of colonialism. The goal must be to right the wrongs, to address the wrongs, to change patterns, transform the foundations and all that we do must be framed to achieve these goals."

'I will always be an ally'

Similar to the remarks made by Wilson-Raybould, former Indigenous Services minister Jane Philpott also spoke of the work she had tried to accomplish while still in her ministerial role.

She said while her political future remains uncertain, "I will always be an ally."

Philpott acknowledged that while people in the room were supportive of the stance the two MPs had taken while still in the Liberal Party, she knows there are critics who have characterized them as naive and not understanding how things work in Ottawa.

"Those critics failed to realize that the way things have always been done may not meet the standard for what Canadians expect from their political leaders," she said.

After the women delivered their keynote they were honoured in a blanketing ceremony by the First Nations Justice Council.

Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC

Council chair Doug White said the women were invited to speak at the forum because of the leadership they've demonstrated in Ottawa.

"I think they both represent, in our view, the right approach to embracing principle with clarity, without any hesitation, in a way that for us makes clear the kind of leadership that we need," said White.

He said his hope was that Philpott and Wilson-Raybould could offer insights into the work the council is doing to develop a First Nations justice strategy in B.C. The goal is to have a draft strategy tabled this fall and White said one of the next steps will be engaging with the federal government.

The justice council came together in 2017 and entered into an agreement with the province to work together on addressing issues within the justice system like the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prisons, access to justice and systemic racism.