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Newly elected Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, give a impassioned speech to supporters in Winnipeg Manitoba, December 10, 2014.

LYLE STAFFORD

Little consensus was reached when Prime Minister Stephen Harper met for the first time with the new National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

But Perry Bellegarde, who was elected in November to lead Canada's largest indigenous group, says an ongoing dialogue between the government and First Nations was started at the face-to-face talk on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Bellegarde invited Mr. Harper to meet with chiefs from across Canada when they gather next July in Montreal – an invitation the Prime Minister did not immediately accept.

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The discussion, which took place at Mr. Bellegarde's request, is Mr. Harper's first meeting with a National Chief of the AFN since the deal he struck on education with Shawn Atleo last winter that eventually led to Mr. Atleo's resignation.

"I wanted to make sure that he knew about our priorities going forward as First Nations people," Mr. Bellegarde said in a telephone interview with The Globe and Mail.

"We had a dialogue. We had an exchange. I can't say there is agreement on any file or issue," he said. "It was basically a meeting to open lines of communication and, at the end of the meeting, there was agreement that our officials will continue to meet, to discuss priorities and what can be achieved moving forward."

A spokesman for Mr. Harper called it a positive first meeting.

Among the topics was treaty implementation and the resolution of comprehensive claims, especially in light of the Tsilhqot'in decision in which the Supreme Court of Canada recognized aboriginal rights and title.

Mr. Bellegarde said he also explained to Mr. Harper the need for an inquiry into the large number of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls in Canada, an idea the Conservative government has rejected.

They talked about the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, which would have given more money for native schools but is on hold after chiefs said it gave too much power to the government. Mr. Bellegarde also called for an end to the 2-per-cent cap on annual increases to on-reserve education that has been in place for nearly two decades.

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He said he talked about the need to revitalize indigenous languages and about the socioeconomic gap between indigenous people and the rest of Canada.

"I outlined, as well, the need to embrace and support new concepts like revenue sharing, which I am bringing up to the premiers as well, to make sure that we are fully involved in the economy," Mr. Bellegarde said.

Mr. Harper, he said, took a lot of notes.

Not all chiefs agree that the National Chief of the AFN, which is essentially a lobby group and not a level of native government, should meet privately with the Prime Minister. Mr. Atleo was criticized by First Nations leaders for having such dialogues.

But Mr. Bellegarde made it clear before he was elected that talking with Mr. Harper was a goal of his first 100 days in office. He has also met with NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

"That's the only way you are going to be able to influence policy and legislation which is unilaterally imposed that affects inherent and treaty rights and jurisdiction in a negative way," Mr. Bellegarde said. "You have to have access to whoever is in leadership power, and I think the majority of chiefs understand that and know that and support that."

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