New treaty alliance to demand meeting with Harper

A new treaty alliance formed on the pow wow grounds of the Onion Lake Cree Nation this week will soon be demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A new treaty alliance formed on the pow wow grounds of the Onion Lake Cree Nation this week will soon be demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

A draft document presented on Wednesday at the annual Treaty 1-11 gathering outlined the first steps for the fledgling National Treaty Alliance and included a demand for a meeting with Harper along with a 30-day deadline for the prime minister.

The document, which was not distributed in hard copy but shown on projector screens because it still needs to be finalized, also stated that if Harper failed to meet the deadline the alliance would launch a national campaign with still unspecified action in response.

“The Treaty Alliance should be prepared to launch a Canada-wide strategy,” said the document.

According to organizers, at least 85 chiefs and band councillors from Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, met in Onion Lake, which straddles the Saskatchewan and Alberta border and sits about 50 kilometres north of provincial border-town Lloydminster. An estimated 1,000 people also camped out in RVs and tents at the site.

The idea for the alliance grew from frustration among prairie and Ontario chiefs with the Assembly of First Nations and National Chief Shawn Atleo over a perceived lack of emphasis on the treaties. There was also a persistent belief that Atleo was making deals with Ottawa that would impact the treaties without consulting First Nations leaders. Atleo and his supporters have insisted that is not the case and that the AFN’s role has been to “kick down the doors” so the chiefs can walk through.

The frustration, however, boiled over after Atleo decided to go ahead with a meeting with Harper on Jan. 11 despite demands from some chiefs to skip the meeting unless the prime minister faced First Nations leaders on their own terms. Several chiefs in attendance at the treaty gathering raised the Jan. 11 meeting during speeches this week.

The AFN also held its annual general assembly this week in Whitehorse, YK.

The demand for a meeting with Harper, however, won’t happen until at least this fall. First Nations leaders are expected to return to their communities with a finalized version of the document outlining next steps and present them to their communities. Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox suggested that each community translate the document into their own language.

Another meeting is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 6 to finalize the structure and immediate work for the alliance. The demand for the meeting with Harper is expected to soon follow.

The draft document also recommended sending letters to all First Nations across the country and in the U.S. inviting them to join the alliance. It also stated that no government funds would be used to create the new organization, which is expected to have its own secretariat.

Many chiefs in attendance at the treaty gathering insisted the new alliance did not aim to divide the AFN, but rather take control of the treaty issue.

“I am still part of the AFN,” said Sandy Bay First Nation Chief Russell Beaulieu. “It’s about who is going to represent our treaty rights.”

The draft document on the alliance’s next steps recommended the new group send a letter to the AFN informing the organization that it no longer had a mandate to deal with the treaties. The letter would also define its relationship with the AFN. Some chiefs in attendance, however, wanted the reference to the AFN taken out because they felt there was no need to have a relationship with the organization.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said the time for the AFN had passed.

“A concept, such as the AFN today, I think, has come and gone. It cannot persist in the type of format that it is in now. That is why I think more and more people are going to shift away,” said Nepinak, in a separate interview.

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