Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde says Indigenous leaders were deliberately left out of a meeting between Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and her provincial and territorial counterparts Friday, a move he is calling “wrong-headed” and “exclusionary.”
Bellegarde — who is in the midst of a re-election battle against four other contenders for the top job at the AFN — said Bennett should know better than to hold meetings on First Nations issues without a First Nations leader at the table.
“I have expressed repeatedly my strong objections on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations to such exclusionary approaches,” the chief said in a letter sent to the prime minister and subsequently shared with CBC News on Friday
“It is inappropriate in this day and age for federal and/or provincial/territorial governments to discuss our fundamental rights as nations and peoples without us at the table.”
Bellegarde’s letter follows a move by key Indigenous leaders to skip an upcoming summer meeting of the the Council of the Federation.
Indigenous leaders have said they should be privy to all talks among premiers as they tackle some of the country’s most pressing problems. Last year, Bellegarde, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Métis National Council President Clément Chartier dismissed “segregated” meetings on Indigenous issues as a format that does not adhere to the spirit of reconciliation.
Bellegarde has had relatively rosy relations with the federal government since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government took office in November 2015. Bellegarde has touted the benefits of a close working relationship with the governing Liberals — billions in new money and a push to fundamentally reform Crown-Indigenous relations — while his foes say he’s too cozy with those in power.
Bennett was meeting with her provincial counterparts Friday to discuss Trudeau’s pledge to engage in a fundamental rethink of how the federal government recognizes Indigenous rights and title — in an effort to develop a new legal framework to help foster Indigenous self-governance.
Trudeau has said he wants to give new life to Aboriginal rights — which are guaranteed under Section 35 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The idea is to allow Indigenous peoples to pursue greater self-determination, with the ultimate goal of addressing entrenched economic and social problems in Indigenous communities.
Bennett has engaged in consultations with Indigenous leadership in an effort to jointly craft a less cumbersome self-government claims process, which frequently has been criticized as too bureaucratic, demanding a lot of money and resources.
A spokesperson for Bennett said Friday the minister has held over 90 consultations on the issue since the new approach was announced in February, and this is the first such meeting with leaders from the provinces and territories. All other meetings have been primarily with Indigenous peoples.
The meeting was designed as an “update” of sorts to ensure the provinces were in the loop about federal-Indigenous efforts.