Harper clears schedule to stay for full meeting with chiefs

Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to cancel scheduled meetings on an upcoming economic summit in Switzerland to spend the day Tuesday listening to First Nations chiefs, according to a senior government official.

(Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Crown-First Nations Gathering. Russ Diabo/Photo)

APTN National News
OTTAWA–
Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to cancel scheduled meetings on an upcoming economic summit in Switzerland to spend the day Tuesday listening to First Nations chiefs, according to a senior government official.

Harper was scheduled to depart early from the Crown-First Nations gathering which the prime minister said he hoped would be “historic.”

The prime minister, however, decided to clear out his schedule and spend the day listening to closed-door side sessions involving cabinet ministers and lunching with chiefs.

A senior government official said Harper cancelled meetings related to the upcoming World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The prime minister is taking a plane for the meeting Tuesday night.

“The prime minister found the sessions productive and useful so he wanted to go participate in the afternoon sessions to hear what was being said,” said a government official. “He didn’t participate he just sat and observed. He didn’t want to disrupt the proceedings.”

Harper’s decision to stay for the day changed the dynamics of the meetings and many chiefs who entered Tuesday morning’s ceremonies convinced that they were being used as props in a Conservative party photo-op ended the day saying they were willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt.

There was widespread anger and disappointment among chiefs Monday over Harper’s planned early departure from the gathering. There was talk of planning a mass walk-out or an attempt to disrupt the event to get the prime minister to pay attention.

The sour feelings were compounded after a Monday evening meeting between the prime minister and a delegation of chiefs. Chiefs attending the meeting said the prime minister suggested they contact their local MPs and that he couldn’t focus solely on their issues because he had a country to run.

Serpent River First Nations Chief Isadore Day was part of the small Ontario delegation that met with Harper Monday evening and came away concerned that the prime minister was not taking First Nations issues seriously.

Day said Harper’s decision to stay for the full meeting and interact with First Nations delegates convinced him to give working with Ottawa another try.

“I don’t think it’s changed everything, but it has given a sober-second thought on some of the assumptions that we had,” said Serpent River First Nation Isadore Day. “We want to continue to have this open dialogue with the prime minister, if this is something the prime minister is willing to do and extend it to his cabinet.”

Six Nations Chief Bill Montour said he was “glad” Harper stayed.

“I have to give him credit for staying, it shows that he realizes there is quite an issue he has to deal with in terms of Indigenous Canada and the rest of Canada,” said Montour. “There were a lot of rumours that he was going to make his speech and head off…that was a slight in my mind.”  

Montour, however, said he would reserve judgement before he buys that Canada and First Nations had entered a “new day,” which the prime minister said in his speech.

“I’ve been in this for 30 years and there have been a lot of new days,” said Montour.

Montour said he got into First Nations politics after hearing a former Liberal Indian affairs minister say in 1975 that he would solve all the “Indian problems” in five years.

“It is a nice show of sincerity that he is here,” said Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers. “The test is going to be as we move forward. We need to have some measurable and we will determine those…I know there is a high level of impatience among people back home.”

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1 thought on “Harper clears schedule to stay for full meeting with chiefs

  1. I do not believe the Government of the day would ever enter into a resonable settelment that would favor First Nations People.

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