Three Indigenous groups back out of Edmonton meeting with premiers

Not satisified with being on the sidelines, they’re holding out for seats at the Council of the Federation table.

TORONTO — The leaders of three Indigenous groups are backing out of a meeting with Canada’s premiers, saying they are holding out for a seat at the Council of the Federation rather than a talk on the sidelines.

Hours before a meeting between premiers and aboriginal leaders was set to take place July 17, the heads of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Metis National Council said they are seeking “full and meaningful inclusion” in the larger annual gathering of provincial and territorial leaders.

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said in a Toronto news conference that Canada’s Indigenous Peoples are not just another special interest group and won’t stand to be treated as such.

“We’re not ethnic minorities, we are Indigenous Peoples with the right to self-determination because we have our own lands, we have our own laws, we have our own languages, we have our own identifiable peoples and we have our identifiable forms of government,” he said.

Though the groups have met with the premiers in the past, they said long-standing issues have come to a head in the last year, particularly when contrasted with the federal government’s more inclusive approach.

“Unless we start taking a stand, they’re not going to really listen to us,” said Clement Chartier, president of the Metis National Council. “Hopefully this message will be heard loud and clear by them otherwise the Metis Nation will concentrate most of our efforts in dealing with the federal government.”

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told reporters Monday that he doesn’t understand the purpose of a boycott. He noted the Council of the Federation is making progress on shared issues like education and infrastructure funding.

“These meetings aren’t perfect and they don’t get the results that everybody wants immediately,” said Wall. “But we’ve substantive progress because of this meeting with all of the national indigenous organizations, so I’m very disappointed that they’re not coming.

“Some of the three that are not here wanted specifically to have aboriginal engagement on the issue today and they’ve chosen not to engage. I don’t understand it. I don’t think it’s the right call.”

Two other Indigenous groups, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, are expected to attend Monday’s meeting.

Asked whether their participation undermined the groups’ message, Chartier said each organization made its decision independently, but noted that the three opting out of the meeting are the leaders of their respective peoples rather than advocacy groups.

“Whether the premiers choose to meet with the two that will be there today or with others, that’s really up to them,” he said.

“But moving forward, if they want to deal with us on an intergovernmental level or intergovernmental basis as the legitimate representatives of our nations and peoples … we’re prepared to be there for that particular purpose but not simply because we’re so-called (national Indigenous organizations).”

Cross-border trade and the looming renegotiation of NAFTA are expected to top the agenda.

“We will be focusing mostly on economic matters beginning with a visit from Ambassador David MacNaughton talking about the work that he’s doing in the United States (and) all of us talking about the work that we’ve being doing in terms of building the relationships in the US,” said Notley.

Negotiations are set to begin next month on a re-working of the tripartite 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

US President Donald Trump’s administration formally gave notice in May it wants to renegotiate the deal, labelling it obsolete and unfair to American workers.

Trade between Canada and the US is pegged at $600 billion. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other premiers have been working with state governors to build cross-border support for the deal.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said it’s critical premiers have their voices heard, noting the bulk of his province’s billion-dollar rubber exports and lucrative seafood products go to US markets.

“We’re not afraid to have NAFTA looked at and negotiated but I think it’s important that it doesn’t drag on,” said McNeil. “We need to make sure investment confidence is still high.”

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