06/04/2015 02:36 EDT | Updated 06/04/2016 05:59 EDT

Phillippe Couillard Acknowledges Cultural Genocide Of Canada's Aboriginals

QUEBEC - Quebec's premier wants changes to the Indian Act to become an issue in the upcoming federal election campaign, declaring that the legislation needs to be updated.

"There has to be an acknowledgment that this law has to be modernized to allow full participation of the First Nations in the country and the economy," Philippe Couillard said Thursday.

But he noted that any changes to the Indian Act, "a 19th-century piece of legislation," would involve Ottawa.

He said the aboriginal issue will be on the table this July at the Council of the Federation, a meeting of 13 provincial and territorial premiers that will be held in St. John's, N.L.

"This probably could be and should be raised as an issue in the federal election," Couillard added.

The Quebec premier also agreed with the assessment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Canada's aboriginals were victims of a cultural genocide.

Couillard said the residential schools regime could "certainly" be described as a cultural genocide of the First Nations.

"First, let's deal with the 'truth' part of the report," he said.

"We have to acknowledge that there was unfortunately in our country an organized and deliberate attempt to erase the culture, the identity and language of the First Nations...one has to recognize this. As a mature people, we should be able to say, 'yes, this happened.'

"Now let's move to the second phase, which is at least, if not more important, the reconciliation part," he said, citing Quebec as an example other provinces could follow.

Couillard pointed to the province's achievements in its dealings with First Nations, like the James Bay agreement, his government's proposed Plan Nord and efforts to negotiate a treaty with the Innu.

But he refused to criticize the attitude of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has avoided using the words "cultural genocide".

The premier also said he would like the story of First Nations to be taught in Quebec schools.

The commission's report made 94 broad recommendations — everything from greater police independence and reducing the number of aboriginal children in foster care to restrictions on the use of conditional and mandatory minimum sentences.

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