March 05, 2016 - 6:00 AM
CALGARY - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was honoured by a southern Alberta First Nation in a ceremony full of colour and history Friday, but aboriginal leaders also challenged him to deliver on his promises to Indigenous Peoples.
Trudeau shared the stage on the Tsuu T'ina reserve with chiefs in full feather headdresses, elders in vests or beaded jackets and the First Nation's rodeo stars.
High-pitched chanting and the rhythmic pounding of drums were all part of an elaborate ceremony in which the prime minister was presented with his own headdress and blessed with the aboriginal name "Gumistiyi," which means "The One Who Keeps Trying."
The headdress presented to Trudeau symbolizes accomplishment, respect, bravery and peace-building. The Tsuu T'ina Nation on the outskirts of Calgary said it has not seen fit to bestow one on a prime minister since John Diefenbaker.
Trudeau was also given a black cowboy hat, a belt buckle and a black fringed-and-beaded leather jacket, which he slipped on to the delight of the audience.
The warm welcome also came with a reminder that the prime minister has promised to help indigenous communities and include them in the national conversation.
Tsuu T'ina Chief Roy Whitney told Trudeau that he will be watched closely to see if he fulfils what he has said he will do.
"Mr. Prime Minister, your election has brought with it expectations, high ones, that the historical obstacles to recognition and achievement ... will finally be accomplished," Whitney said.
"How could Canada evolve into this great Canadian mosaic ... since Confederation without First Nations as part of that mosaic?" Whitney asked.
"The answer is simple: Canada has failed, failed on a scale so unimaginably huge, failed at so many levels that ... no political will seemed able to overcome."
Trudeau reiterated that there is no relationship more important to him and to Canada than the one with First Nations, Inuit and Metis — a relationship "built on the recognition that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are a sacred obligation."
"I commit to you that the government of Canada will walk with you on a path of true reconciliation in partnership and friendship."
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, outlined five promises the Liberals made during last fall's election: to hold an inquiry into missing and murder indigenous women, to implement all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to provide better education for aboriginal youth, to review federal omnibus laws that hurt or disregard First Nations and to provide adequate funding.
First Nations are anxious to see a two per cent cap on federal funding increases removed in the upcoming budget, Bellegarde said.
"March 22 is coming so we are watching and we have our fingers and toes crossed that there will be something."
"That cap was a cap on growth. That cap was a cap on potential and you have to start investing in the fastest-growing segment of Canada's population, which is our young men and women."
"We will honour our promises," Trudeau said.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016