After a three-hour meeting June 10 between Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, his Cabinet ministers and First Nations chiefs or their proxies, Wilton Littlechild believes there is a way for all to move forward together.
The Treaty 6 grand chief believes solutions for the issues facing the people of the 46 First Nations in Alberta can be found in the treaties, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the 94 Calls to Action outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“In my presentation I tried to illustrate how the three work together, both as individual solutions and as a collective solution to the three questions: how do we enhance our relationship with the province; how do we take advantage of an economic opportunity corporation; (and) how we develop economic development with a focus on the resource sector?
“I think that there’s a lot of solutions embedded in the treaties, in the declaration and in the calls to action and just maybe, because of my own personal involvement in all of those areas, I wished more comment could have been around those topics,” said Littlechild.
Littlechild remains active with the United Nations and was instrumental in the UN’s adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007. He was also a commissioner on the TRC, which issued its Calls to Action in 2015 in response to the legacy of the Indian residential schools system. One of those Calls to Action was to fully adopt and implement UNDRIP.
Although disappointed that the documents weren’t given their full due in the meeting with Kenny, Littlechild is still optimistic about the path forward.
“I guess we’re not really trying to reinvent the wheel, but we’re trying to have a fresh start with a new government and see how we can work together,” he said.
The gathering, which took place at Government House in Edmonton, was spearheaded by Littlechild.
Kenney said meeting with First Nations leaders so early in his mandate—he took office six weeks ago—was important.
“I believe it’s a moral imperative that we work with First Nations to lift people from poverty to prosperity and from dependence to opportunity through the path of education, of training, of enterprise,” he said.
The agenda included discussion on gaps for funding in services such as health care and safe drinking water; transportation infrastructure; the need for environmental protection; training and education; First Nation-based child and family services approaches; and the need for economic opportunities beyond the resource sector.
Kenney called himself a practical person, with a “get ‘er done” attitude. He said he and his ministers received “a lot of very specific concrete and useful input” from the meeting.
He said such meetings will be held on an annual basis, but punctuated with six-month meetings with different treaty organizations and First Nations coalitions. He also committed to ongoing meetings with individual First Nations.
Littlechild was pleased that Kenney agreed to the six-month meetings, which was suggested by the chiefs, pointing out that too much can occur over the course of a year for a single annual meeting.
“It’s incumbent on the government and our partners in the First Nations to move this to the next level, to solve a lot of these practical challenges that we’re facing,” said Kenney.
Kenney also committed to his government’s “willingness” to renew or expand protocol agreements between the province and First Nations, which would serve as legal frameworks.
Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey was pleased with the outcome of the meeting, noting that the Kenney government has proven it’s a government of action, having already followed through with some of its campaign promises.
"I believe we have a premier at the table with Cabinet support that is willing to address the issues that we faced in the past," said Noskey.
Moving forward, Littlechild said he would like to see similar annual or semi-annual meetings with the federal government.
“After all it’s a three-party effort. The more we can work together, either bilaterally or trilaterally, I think is good. The key will be follow-up. That will be important. But the commitment was made (by Kenney) as far as enhancement, to have those meetings. That’s a good step,” said Littlechild.