Chiefs to press Harper for meeting including premiers

first_img(Manitoba chiefs delegation heads into meeting with prime minister at his Langevin office, across from Parliament Hill APTN/Photo)DEVELOPINGATPN National NewsOTTAWA–Chiefs with the delegation selected to meet with the prime minister Monday afternoon plan to ask Stephen Harper to agree to a first ministers meeting on First Nations issues.Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said the prime minister would be handed a letter from Manitoba chiefs urging him to agree to a meeting that would include premiers.“We’ve done up a letter to the prime minister respecting the need for the calling of a first ministers meeting on First Nations issues,” said Nepinak, who will be spokesperson for Manitoba chiefs at the meeting with Harper. “If we are going to stop the tragedies in our communities, we have to be aggressive, we have to be ambitious and that is why a first ministers meeting is the right approach.”Harper is expected to meet with a delegation of chiefs from each region in his Langevin office, across from Parliament Hill. Three chiefs from each of the 10 regions are expected to attend. One chief from each region will be tasked as spokesperson and they will have 10 minutes to make their case before the prime minister.Harper’s Monday meeting with the chiefs will go a long way toward alleviating some of the disappointment and frustration expressed by many First Nations leaders when they were told the prime minister would only be present for part of Tuesday’s Crown-First Nations gathering.About 700 people are registered to attend Tuesday’s event, along with 400 chiefs.Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said he will be looking for a commitment from the prime minister to a number of high-level first ministers conferences to finally hammer out a lasting peace with Canada.“We need a commitment from the prime minister that the government of Canada is willing to make a sincere, genuine commitment to rebuild the relationship with Aboriginal people in this country,” said Phillip, who is part of the B.C. delegation. “Many First Nations leaders are calling for a series of first minister conferences to hammer out a concrete agenda and to invest the necessary time and resources to bring a resolution to the many issues that at the moment are completely neglected.”Little Black Bear First Nation Chief Perry Bellegarde, who will be speaking for the Saskatchewan delegation, said he planned to wear a copy of the original treaty medallion around his neck when he sits down to with the prime minister.“If it were not for treaties, this country would not have been able to be developed and founded,” said Bellegarde. “We’re a nation within a nation. Nations make treaties, treaties do not make nations.”The limited room space for Tuesday’s meeting at Ottawa’s old city hall building on Sussex Dr., along with Harper’s plan to cut his time at the gathering short, had tainted the meeting in the eyes of some chiefs.When Harper announced the meeting in December, he said he was hoping it would be “historic.”Chiefs emerging from a closed meeting this morning said a lot of leaders are angered and disappointed about the shape the meeting is taking, with numbers changing as to how many can actually participate in the events Tuesday and who will get to go.There was talk among some chiefs of possibly walking out during Harper’s speech Tuesday and even some wondering whether they should disrupt the event to get the prime minister’s attention.“If the prime minister was really committed to having a changed relationship for the better, he would have found that his original thoughts of coming here to address the chiefs…would have solved a lot of these problems,” said Six Nations Chief Bill Montour. “When anger starts to permeate the room reason seems to go with it…If (the chiefs) just walk out, that is a pretty harsh statement and that is being considered.”Manitoba’s Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Morris Shannacappo said there is a lot of suspicion about the true aim of the meeting and a lot of concern over that way things are unfolding seems to reveal the event is turning into a photo-op for the Conservatives.“I hope we can stay cohesive,” said Shannacappo. “I am hoping our leaders do gather and say, let’s disrupt this.”Ovide Mercredi, a former national chief of the AFN, said he is advising chiefs to take the high road, play it respectfully and wait to formulate a response after the meeting ends.“People are reserving judgment. It’s a wait and see attitude for most the people. There is an element that is negative about this meeting,” said Mercredi. “We let the Canadians know we expect great things from this government and if they don’t deliver, we are not the issue, they become the problem.”Mercredi, who is now a band councillor for Misipawistik Cree Nation, said First Nations leaders should be “forceful” about their position on the need to get many of their people out of dire property and to get the government to respect treaty and Aboriginal rights.“Our people have not forgotten who they are and they have not forgotten to stand up for their rights and the government is on notice,” said Mercredi. “The government has to deliver or they are looking at some reaction from our communities.”Robert Wavey, a community member from Fox Lake Cree Nation, said expectations are high at home for something substantive to come out of Tuesday’s meeting.“I think one of the other messages raised this morning is beware that people back home have huge expectations and if those expectations are not met, you don’t know what those people are going to do,” said Wavey. “The government wouldn’t want an Indian Spring.”last_img

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