Harper's expected early exit won't diminish "historic" meeting with chiefs: Atleo

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo on Friday confirmed Prime Minister Stephen Harper won’t be present for the full Crown-First Nations Gathering next Tuesday.

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo on Friday confirmed Prime Minister Stephen Harper won’t be present for the full Crown-First Nations Gathering next Tuesday.

The country’s most prominent First Nations leader downplayed the impact saying that it wouldn’t take away from potential of the event between the Conservative government and hundreds of First Nations chiefs.

“No I don’t think (the prime minister) is going to be there to the end of the day,” said Atleo, in an interview with APTN National News. “There are around a dozen cabinet ministers (that will be there) and he’s sent a signal to all of government that this is really important and this is led by him.”

A total of 11 cabinet ministers and a number of federal officials are expected to attend the meeting. Gov. Gen. David Johnston is also expected to attend the opening ceremonies and make a short speech.

Harper said in December he hoped the meeting would be “historic.” The prime minister announced the meeting on Dec. 1 in his Parliament Hill office with Atleo sitting next to him as the political fallout from the Attawapiskat housing crisis was reaching its climax.

Some chiefs, however, have expressed displeasure over Harper’s planned departure during the meeting. Chiefs have been told that the prime minister would leave the meeting by lunch time to prepare for a trip to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum.

Chiefs have been told that Harper will only be present for the opening ceremonies and speeches, one of which he will deliver.

Saskatchewan’s main First Nations organization called on Harper to change his plans and “and meet directly with First Nations” leaders.

“According to the draft agenda, there is no opportunity for chiefs or the regional chiefs to speak directly with the prime minister,” said Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations vice-chief Morley Watson.

Watson called on the Conservatives to commit to a yearly Canada-First Nations gathering and a first ministers meeting to deal with “outstanding inherent and treaty rights issues.”

Wahta Mohawks band Coun. Stuart Lane said he doesn’t expect much to come out of the meeting.

“I don’t know what we can really do at any kind of meeting like that,” said Lane, whose community is in Ontario. “We need more internal things that need to be done between nations to support each other.”

Lane said he wasn’t attending the meeting, but the Wahta Mohawks did plan to send a delegation.

According to a consultant who has been involved in discussions around the upcoming gathering, the prime minister’s planned departure is “a big issue” among many chiefs.

“The expectations are too high, a lot of people are going to be disappointed,” said the consultant, who requested anonymity because they are currently working on files involving Ottawa and First Nations. 

The consultant said other chiefs could pick up the call issued by the FSIN for a meeting between premiers, the prime minister and First Nations leaders, but he doubted Harper would ever agree to it.

Harper, however, was once open to a meeting with premiers and First Nations leaders.

He actually planned to hold one within two or three years of taking office, according to a letter he sent to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples shortly before he was first elected in February 2006.

“The Conservative Party of Canada is committed to holding another meeting with first ministers and national Aboriginal leaders within the next two or three years,” wrote Harper, in a Jan. 10, 2006, letter to CAP.

Harper wanted the meeting to “measure progress” on the $5 billion Kelowna Accord which former prime minister Paul Martin signed with First Nations leaders before losing office.

Once Harper became prime minister, his government scrapped the deal.

Atleo, however, believes that Canada is on the cusp of a new relationship with First Nations peoples and Harper wants to succeed where so many other governments have failed.

Atleo said Tuesday’s meeting is the first step on that path.

“It is an opportunity…to push for a reset of the relationship and become full partners and set out a plan of action,” he said. “Where we work with not just a single minister, but the full machinery of government and the prime minister expressed his commitment to do that.”

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1 thought on “Harper's expected early exit won't diminish "historic" meeting with chiefs: Atleo

  1. It sounds like Chief Atleo is going to be a pawn of Harper’s. I would be very careful i f was negotiating with that man

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