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An aboriginal protester shows her support for Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence during a protest near Parliament Hill. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
An aboriginal protester shows her support for Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence during a protest near Parliament Hill. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

Aboriginals, Stephen Harper and the problem of talking Add to ...

Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat and the radical aboriginal activists who have appropriated the Idle No More movement have succeeded only in creating a regional rift among the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations. This has overshadowed the practical conversations between the federal government and a part of the first-nations leadership, and also the actual progress on land-use agreements announced today.

As Ian Brodie, a former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sagely observed in a tweet, “I offer this as advice to anyone who thinks you accomplish more by not meeting the PM than by meeting him. You don’t.” Chiefs from Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta and the Atlantic provinces, along with Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, the Chief of the AFN – not intimidated by a threat of a no-confidence motion – recognized this truth, while chiefs from Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories in effect denied themselves that valuable access. Indeed, some native protesters tried to obstruct their own leaders from entering the Langevin Block of the Parliament Buildings.

At the same time, Mr. Harper could, from the outset, have expressed the gracious side of his nature in making himself available for more than the initial half-hour, just as he unexpectedly stayed for the whole session last year, at the first Crown-First-Nations Gathering. Instead his presence for the full four or five hours was announced when it was about halfway through. It is not to diminish John Duncan, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, or Tony Clement, the President of the Treasury Board (always scheduled to be present throughout) to say that the early assurance of Mr. Harper’s full participation would have added much authority to the discussions. Moreover, though any participation in these discussions by Governor-General David Johnston would have been a grave constitutional violation, his symbolic presence as a silent witness might have done no harm – and could have been a basis for subsequent, strictly private consultations between him and the Prime Minister.

It is welcome news that Mr. Harper wants a second meeting that includes Chief Spence. The petulant boycotters should now drop their obstructionism.

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