Stephen Harper Has A Sit Down With First Nations Leaders

By Frank Larue

“We’re are in a war for our very survival, based on under funding, based on legislative policies of assimilation and legislative policies of the past. We are in a conflict, so clearing the pathways for peace is the proper terminology,” says Gregory Peters, chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indian

On January 23, First Nations Chiefs from across Canada will convene with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a landmark summit meeting. The Assembly of First Nations has prepared a 71-page document that lists its grievances and demands. “First Nations seek to ‘smash the status quo’ conditions that disadvantage, disempower, and harm First Nations,” states the document. “Moving forward, a shared commitment to full implementation, equity, mutual accountability, and effective joint monitoring and oversight are needed.”

There is a strong feeling on both sides to resolve some of the problems that have plagued government and Native negotiations for several decades. In a round table discussion, the Premier will spend ten minutes with each First Nation representative. There will be several cabinet ministers attending the conference. Harper’s spokesman Andrew MacDougall described their presence as an “unprecedented show of political force behind improving Aboriginal-Crown relations. The prime minister is a firm believer that you don’t fix everything in one day.” Chief Gregory Peters has also stated that Harper is committed in finding solutions for Native people. “I think Prime Minister Harper and his government knows how to get things done, that they are not so interested in satisfying parliament as they are in results,” Chief Peters stated. “I view his government as a results-oriented government and with a commitment from him there is a great opportunity to start a new era in our relationship.”

One of the items on the agenda is education. Harper is willing to introduce legislation that would give First Nations the right to set up their own school boards, which would allow Native teachers to implement more Native-friendly courses, which has been suggested by First Nations teachers for several years. Harper’s legislation would also restructure financing to make sure there is consistency in the funding,

Although there seems to be a sense of optimism on both sides, there remain the lingering seeds of skepticism from some of the older chiefs. Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation has stated that before you clean the slate, it would be wise to look back for a moment. “I’m hoping the government will make a firm commitment to reset the treaty relationship which we already agreed to 100 years ago.” Beardy’s main concern is a bigger share of the income that comes out of traditional Native land. Charlie Angus, National Democratic Party MP who has criticized Harper for not doing something about the sad state of Native housing, hopes that the summit meeting doesn’t turn into a Conservative Party photo opportunity. “Canadians are expecting a new deal between Canada and our First Nations. We have major issues.”