Treat First Nations with respect to regain trust

First Nations leaders gathered in Ottawa to meet with the federal government this past week amid calls for the Prime Minister to work with them as full and equal partners moving forward.   What is clear is that the need to engage in honourable discussions and negotiations is as pressing as it has ever been. 

The challenges facing aboriginal communities in Canada are well known.  Many of the issues have been lingering in the government’s “to do” file for years and even decades.  We saw it in Attawapiskat just recently, as we have seen it elsewhere across the country for years.  Other examples that leap to mind are Kashechewan and the ongoing saga that has transformed the community in Grassy Narrows.  Despite this, for First Nations, the summit was seen as an opportunity to reset their relationship with the federal government which shows a great capacity to move forward in good faith.

Despite the success of his Residential Schools Apology, Stephen Harper has little else to show for this important Prime Ministerial duty.  In the weeks leading up to the summit, the Prime Minister was made aware by local First Nations that they expected nothing less than his full attendance at the meetings. I helped get messages through to the PM and was copied on many more that came from community members, young and old, as well as the leadership itself.

On Tuesday (January 24th), I joined local First Nations representatives and leaders in Ottawa at a rally that called on the Prime Minister to stick around for the summit – which he did.  That First Nations felt the need to make such a public show of this request is understandable given the Prime Minister’s refusal to deal with their pressing issues and his recent dismissal of the Premiers at a healthcare summit this month. 

Moving forward, it is imperative for the government to acknowledge that treaties form the basis of their relationship with First Nations; that these are issues of trust and respect.  Only when this government realizes that it must work in a nation-to-nation relationship with Aboriginal leaders will we start seeing real progress on the critical issues.  Everything else flows from that.

New Democrats are calling on the federal government to ensure that any new legislation or measures are developed in full consultation with First Nations.  Moving forward in any other way will send the wrong message and further erode the trust that is needed in this important relationship.

National Chief Atleo stated that there needs to be a new fiscal relationship, mirroring the statutory guarantees granted to non-Aboriginal governments and Canadians for education, health, social services.  For First Nations, the seriousness of the Conservative government’s commitment on these issues will be tested in the upcoming budget.