Harper declares "new day" in relationship with First Nations

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared a “new day” had dawned on the relationship between Canada and its Indigenous population, he offered no grand pronouncements in his speech to First Nations chiefs during the opening of the Crown-First Nations Gathering in Ottawa Tuesday.

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APTN National News
OTTAWA–While Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared a “new day” had dawned on the relationship between Canada and its Indigenous population, he offered no grand pronouncements in his speech to First Nations chiefs during the opening of the Crown-First Nations Gathering in Ottawa Tuesday.

After the drums died and sweet grass smoke drifted to the ceiling of Victoria Hall in the Diefenbaker building, Harper took the podium and told chiefs in the room and those watching on screens at the Chateau Laurier a few blocks away, that the days of mistrust had passed and a new relationship had dawned.

“In past conversations, we have talked about symbolism and respect and trust. Certainly in the past lack of trust on both sides has held us back,” said Harper. “But this is a new day.”

Harper said Canada’s relationship with First Nations had been tainted by events like the Indian residential school system which was “an explicit attempt to destroy Aboriginal culture.” The prime minister said one of his “most rewarding days in office” was when he delivered the government’s apology for residential schools in the House of Commons in 2008.

“Every relationship has its ups and downs, moments of consensus and of disagreement,” said Harper. “I believe it is important to build a narrative of any relationship based on its highest points.”

The treaties, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which forms the basis of Aboriginal rights in the Constitution and the courts, and the War of 1812 that saw First Nations ally with the British.

Harper, however, stuck to the theme he had developed in media interviews in the run-up to the gathering saying that his government was focused on incremental steps, not grand leaps.

Harper said his government had no plans to scrap the Indian Act, choosing instead to find “creative ways” to work within and outside the over 100 year-old legislation.

“Our government has no grand scheme to repeal or unilaterally re-write the Indian Act. After 136 years, that tree has deep roots. Blowing up the stump would just leave a big hole,” said Harper. “However, there are ways, creative ways, collaborative ways, ways that involve consultation between our government, the provinces and First Nations leadership and communities. Ways that provide options within the Act, or outside of it, for practical, incremental and real change.”

Harper said his government would continue with the so-called Joint Action Plan with the Assembly of First Nations which targets education, economic development, accountability and treaty relationships.

“We have only just begun,” said Harper.

Harper also recited some of his government’s actions on First Nations issues, but remained silent on calls by many chiefs for the federal government to commit to a series of first ministers meetings or high-level discussions to deal with the dire poverty and uncertainty around Aboriginal and treaty rights for good.

Many chiefs were hoping Harper would use his speech to respond to some of the issues they presented personally to him during a meeting Monday with a delegation of First Nations leaders.

Many believed that Harper’s speech would essentially determine whether Tuesday’s ceremonies and discussions would lead to a momentous shift in the current state of relations between Canada and Indigenous peoples.

Harper himself said he hoped the meeting would be “historic” when he announced the event in December while in his Parliament Hill office with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo by his side.

The announcement came just as the political fallout over the Attawapiskat crisis was reaching its climax.

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1 thought on “Harper declares "new day" in relationship with First Nations

  1. It’s really funny how everyone responds. I see through words said and filter it where I understand. This is a positive side but patients have worn thin. I think ideals presented the right way can be positive. Lets face it there are alot of things to do each day, the limelight may bedim, but not out. I have a great ideal & hope to get it on a table where departments can review & offer help within there own program. My ideal is like a single feather, dam hard to get it off the ground without help of other feathers in a wing by: feather in my headu00a0

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