The Assembly of First Nations wants Canada’s natives to have a seat at the table during equalization talks, greater opportunities for resource-revenue sharing and the ability to revisit legislation that negatively affects their communities.
The recommendations are part of a draft action plan that was obtained by The Globe and Mail and stem from responses given by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to eight demands presented to him on Jan. 11 by National Chief Shawn Atleo and a delegation of other native leaders during their meeting last week.
The issues are being considered by AFN regional chiefs and provide the first sense of what aboriginal leaders asked of Mr. Harper and what they are willing to push for in the weeks to come.
The action plan outlines the AFN’s interpretation of Mr. Harper’s comments during the five-hour discussion, as well as the “next steps” the native organization proposes.
Mr. Atleo and Mr. Harper have agreed to meet one-on-one in the coming weeks to discuss those next steps – something that could further inflame chiefs who accused the AFN of leaving them out of the negotiations.
On the issue of education, the delegation told Mr. Harper that there must be adequate schools, founded in native culture, in every first nation. According to the internal document, the Prime Minister said education is important and “at some point we will need to discuss postsecondary education as well.”
It says a joint task force on first-nations economies should be given the mandate to examine resource-revenue sharing. It also says there should be “options for first-nation engagement in equalization discussions.”
And it calls for a national co-ordinated discussion around legal challenges to two omnibus budget bills that first-nations people say will negatively affect them and their communities. Those bills sparked the grassroots protest group Idle No More, which has been staging demonstrations across the country since early December.
The outcome of the meeting with Mr. Harper has been overshadowed by the anger of chiefs who accuse Mr. Atleo of capitulating to the limits the government placed on the size of the AFN delegation and Ottawa’s refusal to allow Governor-General David Johnston to attend. Mr. Johnston’s participation is a demand of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who is in the fifth week of a hunger strike.
The outcry has been so intense that some chiefs have mused about finding ways to unseat Mr. Atleo, who has stepped away from his job to recuperate from a severe bout of stomach flu and exhaustion.
In his absence, Manitoba chiefs called Friday for another meeting on Jan. 24 with the Prime Minister, Mr. Johnston and all first-nations leaders.
“We can’t write off the fact that there’s a great number of chiefs who are not satisfied with what happened last week,” Derek Nepinak, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told a news conference. “We also have Chief Spence and Raymond [Robinson, another hunger striker] who continue to deteriorate in their health condition, and that creates a sense of ongoing urgency for us that takes precedence over many things.”
Chiefs and elders have met with Ms. Spence to try to persuade her to abandon her fast, but she said Friday that she is standing firm until the meeting with Mr. Harper and Mr. Johnston takes place.
Mr. Nepinak said the meeting of Jan. 24, if it occurs, must begin the discussion about resource equity for first nations. But the AFN is already proposing a way to start those talks in its draft action plan.
In the meantime, there has been talk of holding a vote of no-confidence in Mr. Atleo’s leadership as a result of his handling of the meeting of Jan 11. Regional chiefs were going to learn about the process for holding a no-confidence vote during a teleconference Thursday but ended up talking about other things.
“There is a time and a place” for that discussion, said Stan Beardy, the AFN regional chief for Ontario. First-nations leadership must now focus on ending Ms. Spence’s hunger strike and on the budget bills, which are “harmful to all of us living on the planet,” he said.
“The issue at this point in time is our relationship with the federal government, our treaty relationship and also the omnibus bills,” he said. “So that’s why there was no discussion on the [no-confidence] procedure.”