‘Get off your phone and listen’: chiefs call out minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations

The minister of Crown Indigenous Relations got an earful from First Nations leaders Wednesday.

With so many pressing issues facing their more than 630 communities, several chiefs lined up at the microphone to address Gary Anandasangaree following his keynote address Wednesday at the Assembly of First Nations general assembly in Montreal.

The moderator said they would have three questions or comments each before a response from Anandasangaree.

But it was a comment from Regena Crowchild, proxy for chief Roy Whitney at Tsuut’ina First Nation in southern Alberta, that stole the show.

“To back up what other chiefs have just said, I want to notify you Mr. Minister, if you listen, quit being on your phone and talking and listen,” said Crowchild to applause. “That’s what you’re here for.”

However, a spokesperson for Anandasangaree said later he was not on his phone.

Crowchild said it was frustrating being only allowed such a short time to quiz Anandasangaree.

“We try to address our issues with ministers and they spend an hour or two with us while looking at their phones – like you’re doing,'” she continued.

“There has to be respect if you want to get it.”

Vera Mitchell, the chief of Poplar River First Nation in northern Manitoba, thanked the minister for coming but said she was disappointed in the slow pace of reforming the child welfare system.

“Child and Family Services in Manitoba,” she said, “all their agencies are mandated by the province. They are not accountable to our communities or people.

“We don’t have mandated child and family services so why do we want to assist the province in reforming a child welfare system that is broken?” she added. “We have been talking about this for the last 20 years. We will never be able to reform child welfare unless the jurisdiction is given to our people.”

Anandasangaree nodded in agreement but Mitchell didn’t let him off that easy.

“I want you to go read the Indian Act,” she said. “You have the ability as the Indian agent to give us jurisdiction of child welfare. And while you’re at it, give us gaming, too.”

Anandasangaree agreed his department had work to do.

“As we finalize agreements and discussions, I think it’s important to keep in mind what this is all about, ensuring children stay in their communities and at the same time the communities themselves have self-determination over this issue,” he said.

As things continued to heat up the moderator had to step in.

“Make sure your words are appropriate,” she said. “Please stay respectful at the microphone.”

A contingent of chiefs from British Columbia wanted answers on the original Trans Mountain pipeline of 1950. While Chief Jeffrey Copenace of the Ojibways of Onigaming asked about treaties.

“I have a problem when you talk about modern treaty and you include Métis (people) in the modern treaty,” he said. “You are disrespecting the historic treaties. There wouldn’t be a Canada if it wasn’t for treaties.

“You want respect, you have to treat us the same,” Copenace added. “At least say Hi! on the street when I pass you . . . Why are our people sleeping on the streets? That’s not right.”

Anandasangaree defended his government’s record on relations with Indigenous peoples in a scrum with reporters.

“We have invested unprecedented amounts of money, but more importantly we have re-set the relationship in a way that cannot be turned back,” the minister said.

“And I fundamentally believe that that is what Canadians will be looking for (in the next federal election). That’s what Indigenous people will be looking for.”

Editor’s note: The story was updated late on 10/7/24 to add a comment from the minister’s spokesperson.

Contribute Button