January 10, 2013

Struggle and demands for "fundamental transformation" surround Harper's meeting with First Nations

Rebel Youth

Responding to the popular pressure of the Idle No More movement as well as the hunger strike of Chief Spence, Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper has finally agreed to meet with First Nations leaders.

According to the Globe and Mail, however, a agenda released by the Prime Minister's Office this afternoon says Harper would only attend the opening half hour and the final hour. Cabinet ministers would attend working sessions in between.

"Unfortunately, the prime minister has been very dictatorial and unrelenting in his position to control and set the agenda for this meeting" a release stated, from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and Southern Chiefs Organization. "This clearly demonstrates that the Government of Canada does not have any iota of concern or respect for the rights of the Indigenous people of this country."

Chief Spence and the First Nations leadership from across the country want Prime Minister Harper and the Governor General David Johnston, as the viceregal representative of the British crown, to meet at the Delta Hotel in Ottawa.  Harper, however, is not allowing the Governor General's presence and insisting on a smaller meeting in his personal offices at the old Langevin Block by Parliament Hill.

Meanwhile, Chief Spence is continuing her hunger strike on only fish broth and medicinal teas. The grass roots Idle No More movement continues to gather popular support and has not demobilized, remaining essentially vigilant and on-alert.

Speaking of the Idle No More movement Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said today that the protests have enough strength to "bring the Canadian economy to its knees."

"It can stop Prime Minister Harper's resource development plan and his billion-dollar plan to develop resources in our ancestral territories. We have the warriors that are standing up now that are willing to go that far. So we're not here to make requests. We're here to demand attention and to demand an end to 140 years of colonial rule," CBC news quoted him as saying.

Also today at a press conference in Ottawa, Saskatchewan Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde told journalists that “The treaties were about peaceful coexistence and sharing the lands and the resources, not exploitation. The treaties were not meant to make us poor in our homelands, but that is what you see.”

Chief Bellegarde appeared alongside Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and B.C. Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould at a news conference in Ottawa.  The full video by the Canadian Press is below and contains powerful statements the leaders on the necessity for real changes.

“The demands of our people of the First Nations is the need for fundamental transformation in our relationship with the government of Canada, now,” Atelo was quoted by Macleans Magazine as saying.

“Generations of our leaders have delivered the same message to successive federal governments for over a century... From the battle against the destructive federal government white paper back in 1969 to the struggles to win section 35 in the Constitution in ’80, to the Charlottetown debates in the 90s, to our efforts to make effective the recommendations of the royal commission 16 years ago, we have never wavered. Our voices have always been clear. Continuing attempts to undermine our resolve, to divide our people, have and always will fail,” Atelo said.

According to the Toronto Star the “high-level commitments” the chiefs will be seeking from the Harper Conservative government include:

 •  a new institution through the PMO or the Privy Council Office to look at the implementation and enforcement of treaties;

 •  designating a minister, possibly Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, to bring together First Nations and provincial premiers to figure out how they can share revenues from resource development;

 •  a new “fiscal relationship” that would allow federal funding to increase with inflation and be based on total population living both on and off reserves;

 •  a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women;

 •  ensuring there is a school in every aboriginal community;

 •  reviewing the sections of recently passed omnibus budget implementation bills that have to do with environmental oversight to see if the Conservative government complied with its duty to consult First Nations;

 •  setting up a process to ensure that every piece of proposed federal legislation complies with Section 35 of the Constitution, which protects aboriginal and treaty rights;

 •  support for nation-building efforts when First Nations are “ready, willing and able to move beyond the Indian Act.”

Watch the full video here:


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