Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic July 20, 2017 - 7:55 am

Inuit, Indigenous groups snub premiers’ meeting

Separate meeting for Indigenous leaders, premiers panned as tokenism

BETH BROWN
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed speaks during a Toronto press conference July 17, flanked by Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, left, and Clément Chartier, leader of the Métis Nation. (PHOTO COURTESY ITK)
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed speaks during a Toronto press conference July 17, flanked by Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, left, and Clément Chartier, leader of the Métis Nation. (PHOTO COURTESY ITK)
New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant tells media, following a July 17 premiers meeting with Indigenous peoples, that the process of consultation is not as important as achieving results. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley stands to his right. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE FEDERATION)
New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant tells media, following a July 17 premiers meeting with Indigenous peoples, that the process of consultation is not as important as achieving results. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley stands to his right. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE FEDERATION)

Canada’s three main Indigenous leaders called a July 17 meeting between Canadian premiers and Indigenous peoples an attempt to sideline and segregate Inuit, Métis and First Nations input within intergovernmental talks.

And so, they didn’t go to that meeting.
 
National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed and leader of the Métis Nation Clément Chartier chose to boycott the meeting that took place prior to the two-day gathering of the Council of the Federation, July 18 to 19 in Edmonton.

The council is a platform for provincial and territorial premiers to build collaborative relationships among governments on issues important to Canadians.
Topics for discussion included employment, economic growth, global trade, criminal justice and cannabis legalization.

But scheduling a meeting outside of the forum dates was perceived by Indigenous leaders as a value-added bonus.

The week prior to the meeting, the groups requested that their meeting be held during the forum and that in future, they receive an invitation to the actual CoF meetings.

This didn’t happen.

Obed said in a July 17 ITK release that exclusion of Inuit from meaningful intergovernmental discussions contradicts the Canadian Constitution, the governance authority Inuit hold in Canada as well as the spirit of reconciliation.

“Leaders are calling for meaningful inclusion in the agenda aimed at developing a vehicle for a structured and meaningful process for engagement between Inuit, First Nations, and Métis, provinces and territories and the federal government, with a view to achieving a just and lasting reconciliation between Inuit and all Canadians,” he said.

He added that coordination and cooperation are necessary for development of policy and programs that “improve the socio-economic status of Inuit across Inuit Nunangat.” 

This would require provincial and territorial leaders to work on an even political playing field with Indigenous groups regarding infrastructure, health, education, housing and economic development, said Obed.

“The leaders of the three national Indigenous organizations chose not to attend the meeting because of the regressive moves by some members of the Council of the Federation to minimize and marginalize participation of Indigenous leaders,” said a July 17 release by the Assembly of First Nations.

Bellegarde said since the AFN represents First Nations governments, it should be integrated for “full and effective participation” in the Council of the Federation and other intergovernmental forums.

“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. First Nations will not accept an exclusionary and disrespectful approach,” he said.

The July 17 meeting with Indigenous groups unfolded as planned regardless, with representation by the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

The presidents of both those organizations said during a media scrum that they felt their participation was valuable and effective. 

“We got good communication with the premiers,” said Robert Bertrand, president of the CAP, in a transcript of comments provided to Nunatsiaq News by the Council of the Federation.

“And as for the other organizations […] they have their reasons for doing so and I respect it.  But I find, for the people that I represent, it was a good thing that we were here,” he said.

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