By Shari Narine - Windspeaker, 2013
Success is not defined by a single meeting with the Prime Minister. Success is about what led up to the Jan. 11 meeting with him and what will follow.
“At the end of the day, what’s most important is that we had an eight-point consensus document … but it’s only going to mean something if we continue to gather strength and keep the pressure on,” said Snuneymuxw Nation Chief Doug White.
It was delegates from a divided Assembly of First Nations that met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper for four hours. Chiefs from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario boycotted the meeting, although there were chiefs from those provinces who attended on their own.
“It was not a simple straightforward meeting, for sure. There was a lot of complicated stuff around it,” said White.
Only days after AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo requested a meeting with Harper, the Prime Minister agreed. Chiefs met for two days and hammered out a statement of issues to present to Harper. The eight points raised were: the establishment of a framework for the implementation of treaties; reformation of the comprehensive lands claim policy; resource revenue sharing; legislation consistent with Sect. 35 of the Canadian Constitution and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; a fiscal relationship that removes caps to funding; national inquiry into violence against Indigenous women and girls; improved education services; and a new government mechanism to address the work that needs to be undertaken.
AFN Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde helped lead the strategy sessions that resulted in the eight-point presentation, but Bellegarde, as head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, did not attend the meeting with Harper.
“I didn’t go in out of respect for my Saskatchewan caucus,” said Bellegarde. The caucus boycotted the meeting to show its disappointment with Harper’s decision to limit the number of presenting delegates and Governor General David Johnston’s decision to not attend.