Leaders from the three national Indigenous organizations will skip the meeting with premiers in Edmonton this week, saying the format does not adhere to the spirit of the reconciliation.
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Métis National Council President Clément Chartier told reporters in Toronto that the current format subjugates Indigenous issues, because they cannot participate in meetings as full members of the Council of the Federation with province-like powers to be at the table for all talks.
Bellegarde said there have been “attempts to sideline and segregate the AFN from participation in federal-provincial-territorial intergovernmental tables,” and limit and “marginalize” Indigenous involvement.
“We are not just another special interest group. An effective process for intergovernmental participation must reflect our status under the Constitution and international law as peoples and nations with inherent rights, title and jurisdiction,” Bellegarde said.
“First Nations will not accept an exclusionary and disrespectful approach.”
Bellegarde said there have been efforts by some provincial governments to block Indigenous groups from participating fully in climate change discussions, and health-care talks, for example. He would not specify which provinces were behind the alleged push for exclusion.
Indigenous organizations met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers at a first ministers’ meeting in December, where the national climate change strategy was signed by nearly all provinces. But they were not invited to partake fully in the day’s activities.
One leader told CBC News at the time that it felt like Indigenous leaders were put at the “kid’s table.”
However, all three national leaders were given seats next to the premiers at the closing press conference.
Chartrand said if Canada is to adhere to a true nation-to-nation approach, national Indigenous organizations should be recognized as “full-fledged governments” with an invitation to all intergovernmental meetings.
“We can’t accept the status quo of being excluded, or sidelined from ministerial level meetings, the Council of Federation meetings, or First Ministers’ meetings.
There has to be a way forward that is in line with the UNDRIP, in line with our constitution,” Obed said, adding Aboriginal and treaty rights guaranteed in Section 35 of the Constitution give them the right to fully participate.
The Council of the Federation had planned to meet with Indigenous leaders Monday to discuss progress on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations and the federal government’s implementation of principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
Those meetings will now proceed with two other Indigenous organizations, including the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which represents off-reserve and non-status Indians.
‘Not ethnic minorities’
Chartrand said the premiers are free to speak to these groups, but he said the three organizations that are boycotting the meeting are the “legitimate representatives” of nations and peoples.
“We are not ethnic minorities. We are Indigenous peoples with the right to self-determination,” Bellegarde said.
The premiers will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss other pressing matters, such as NAFTA and the legalization of marijuana.
A spokesperson for Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Friday the province had been trying to “persuade” Indigenous leaders to attend the meeting.
“Monday’s meeting has been set for months now and the intent of the meeting is largely to address relationships and interactions with the Indigenous leaders and organizations and the provinces and territories,” Cheryl Oates said in a statement to CBC News.
He who has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor. – Proverbs 22:9