AFN seeking $400,000 from Ottawa for chiefs' committee on treaties

The Assembly of First Nations is seeking $400,000 from Ottawa to fund a chiefs’ committee on treaties despite demands from prairie chiefs that the organization relinquish the file.

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The Assembly of First Nations is seeking $400,000 from Ottawa to fund a chiefs’ committee on treaties despite demands from prairie chiefs that the organization relinquish the file.

The AFN, which is the largest First Nations organization in Canada and represents the interests of chiefs, submitted a funding proposal to the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs in July, according to a document obtained by APTN National News.

Many First Nations leaders still hold treaties signed with the Crown, both before and after Confederation, as the primary documents that define their relationship with Canada. Canada, however, relies on the Indian Act and so-called modern day treaties signed through the settlement of comprehensive land claim agreements as the primary vehicle for defining Ottawa’s relationship with First Nations.

First Nations leaders in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, have been pushing to have treaties again become paramount. They have rejected legislative attempts by Ottawa to address issues like education, arguing the treaties already spell out Canada’s responsibilities to First Nations.

The treaty issue has proven divisive within the First Nation political sphere, with prominent chiefs such as Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak and Serpent River First Nation Chief Isadore Day publicly declaring the AFN has no mandate to handle the treaty file.

The AFN’s treaty work funding proposal is dated July 10, the same day the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs issued a statement declaring that the AFN had no authorization to do any work on treaty issues.

According to the proposal document, the AFN is seeking the money to support the work of “chiefs task force” in connection with a “senior oversight committee on treaties” created following a Jan. 11 meeting between AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, selected chiefs and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The senior oversight committee includes officials from Aboriginal Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Office of the Privy Council.

According to a budget attached to the proposal, the AFN is seeking $155,400 for salaries and benefits, $165,000 for travel and meetings, $45,223 for consultation and research, $10,000 for equipment and promotions, $20,377 for rent and insurance, along with $4,000 for interpretation and translation.

A spokesperson for the AFN said the organization has still not received a response from Aboriginal Affairs on the proposal.

“The work on treaties by a number of treaty leaders and chiefs continues,” said spokesperson Jenna Young, in an emailed statement. “As directed by chiefs, the AFN works to secure resources to support its work across a number of priority areas and initiatives.”

The Jan. 11 meeting proved to be a pivotal moment for the AFN and many treaty chiefs who wanted Atleo to skip the meeting because of the limited number of First Nations leaders allowed to attend and the absence of Gov. Gen. David Johnston. In the end, a number of chiefs did attend including Matthew Coon Come, grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees.

Displeasure by some chiefs over the meeting led to the creation of a new treaty alliance which held its inaugural gathering this summer in Onion Lake with about 85 chiefs in attendance. The alliance is expected to meet again on Oct. 6 and it has plans to call for a meeting with Harper.

Fox declined to be interviewed on the AFN’s funding proposal.

The AMC also declined to issue a comment, but a spokesperson said the statement issued July 10 still stands.

“First Nations have not delegated their sovereignty with respect to dealing with treaties to the (AFN)…our leadership was very clear that the AFN does not have the authority to bind the treaty First Nations of Manitoba or to carry out any activity….Treaties are also are also fundamental to the legitimacy of the Canadian constitution and cannot be negotiated away behind closed doors at high level tables in Ottawa,” said Nepinak in the statement.

The federal government wants its discussions on treaties at the senior oversight committee to remain confidential, according to a copy of the terms of reference obtained by APTN National News.

A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs said the department was working on a request for comment on the AFN’s proposal.

No statement was available as of this article’s initial posting.

The AFN was hit by a $1.7 million cut earlier this year as the department changed the way it funded First Nations organizations.

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