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Whitecap Dakota First Nation Chief Darcy Bear says he won't be endorsing Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre.DAVID STOBBE/The Globe and Mail

The chief of one of Saskatchewan’s most economically successful First Nations says he is not endorsing Pierre Poilievre in the Conservative Party leadership race – even though the front-runner has been featuring him prominently in social media posts.

Mr. Poilievre met with Chief Darcy Bear and the Whitecap Dakota First Nation Band Council in Saskatchewan on March 2 to discuss the First Nation’s initiative for self-government. Mr. Poilievre later posted a video of the meeting, effectively featuring Mr. Bear in a leadership campaign promotion of his plans for Indigenous economic growth.

“My goal is to give First Nations control of their own lands and their money so they can pursue incredible opportunities just like Chief Bear has brought here,” Mr. Poilievre says in the video for his Pierre Poilievre for Prime Minister campaign.

In the video, he praises Mr. Bear and uses him as an example of “the great potential for First Nations to thrive and achieve things right across this country with the right policies and the government that is willing to allow them to take control of their lives and their destinies.”

However, in an interview, Mr. Bear said he is not supporting Mr. Poilievre and is open to meeting with politicians of any political party to educate them about nation-to-nation partnerships with Indigenous people.

“No … we work with every level of government,” he said when asked if he is backing Mr. Poilievre. “When I was first elected, [Jean] Chrétien was the prime minister and then Paul Martin, and then it was Stephen Harper and now it’s [Justin] Trudeau.”

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Mr. Bear and the band council met with Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu and Marc Miller, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, in Ottawa in December. Ms. Hajdu also visited Whitecap on Feb. 21. The meetings were about the self-government agreement that the community will put to a ratification vote in late May.

Some of Mr. Poilievre’s campaign proposals are at odds with the views of many Indigenous leaders.

On March 4, he tweeted, “As Prime Minister, I will replace Trudeau’s anti-energy laws with new laws that protect the environment, consult First Nations and provide them with pay cheques. Canada’s energy projects need quick decisions, not endless delays.”

The tweet was in connection with his announcement that day in Regina that he would repeal government bills C-69 and C-48 in order to encourage oil and pipeline development. Bill C-69 strengthened the environmental review process for oil and gas projects – including consultations with Indigenous communities – while Bill C-48 bans large oil tankers off British Columbia’s northern coast, an idea espoused by many First Nations in that province.

Assembly of First Nations Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek said that repealing those laws goes against what she called unprecedented Indigenous involvement in a three-year process to make sure federal legislation aligns with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

“With respect to the consultation, I have never heard Pierre Poilievre support free prior and informed consent, as outlined in UNDRIP. Nor have I ever heard him speak to a rights-based approach,” Ms. Adamek said.

She said the video posted March 8 shows a lack of understanding of a rights-based approach to international legal standards and the inherent and treaty rights of Indigenous peoples.

“I think anyone who’s running for any particular party has to really do the work to understand what that means and to do the work to also uphold processes and pieces of legislation, like Bill C-69 and Bill C-48, that actually developed legislation in the right way,” Ms. Adamek said.

She said she felt the video demonstrates a presumption that self-government rights are by the government rather than inherently held by Indigenous peoples.

Mr. Poilievre has also been receiving criticism on social media about past comments he has made about Indigenous peoples.

During the 2020 Wet’suwet’en rail blockades to protest the construction of B.C.’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, Mr. Poilievre said Indigenous and environmental demonstrators were “taking away the freedom of other people to move their goods and themselves … and that is wrong.”

A video of those remarks recirculated on social media in February during the truck-convoy protests, when Mr. Poilievre met with and offered support for the demonstrators in downtown Ottawa.

In 2008, he apologized in the House of Commons for claiming that Indigenous people needed to learn the value of hard work rather than just be compensated for the abuse they suffered at residential schools – on the same day that then-prime minister Stephen Harper apologized to Canada’s Indigenous people for the harm done by the schools.

Mr. Poilievre’s campaign spokesman, Anthony Koch, said his candidate “understands the error that he made in making those comments, especially given the historical context and the sincerity of the moment that was happening in the House of Commons right around there.”

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