By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A group of Ottawa’s poor and homeless loitered on the sidewalk outside St. Paul’s waiting patiently to begin their weekly service unusually held in the church basement occupied on this Wednesday evening by First Nation leaders who were running overtime in a gathering deemed by many to be a historic event.
Behind a door with a hand-scrawled sign saying, “No Media,” and down a set of stairs, a group of about 50 First Nation delegates, representing Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, along with a numbers of onlookers, gathered in a circle to revive the Confederacy of Nations from a decade-long slumber.
The chiefs met in the downtown church because the Assembly of First Nations executive refused a request from Ontario regional Chief Stan Beardy to call a Confederacy of Nations meeting and provide a venue. So the Chiefs of Ontario organization found the church basement through a contact at the Odawa Friendship Centre and held the meeting anyway. It was the first Confederacy of Nations meeting since 2004.
While few chiefs would discuss details of what went on during the meeting, APTN National News has learned the Confederacy basically moved to reject the current version of Bill C-33, the First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act, and plans to seek a negotiated “accord” with Ottawa on education.
The education accord would result in a new “fiscal transfer mechanism” through a needs-based formula that respects First Nation jurisdiction over their education systems. The accord would seek “direct Treasury transfers” to First Nations.
“This would be more aligned with our original Treaty resource sharing arrangement,” according a draft statement obtained by ATPN National News which expected for release by the Confederacy Thursday.
The Confederacy also moved to open talks with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt on education and a letter is expected to be issued Thursday.
Thursday’s planned Confederacy statement is expected to demand Canada “withdraw and cease all imposed legislation on First Nations without free, prior and informed consent” or face consequences, according to the draft.
“We will strategically and calculatedly begin the economic shut-down of Canada’s economy from coast-to-coast,” said the draft statement. “First Nations will determine whether or not there is intentional economic for the economic development on Turtle Island.”
The statement can still be amended before its public release. It has been circulated to the AFN’s executive which had its powers stripped by the Confederacy through a separate motion.
“The AFN Secretariat and Executive Committee are directed and instructed to support all aspect of this Confederacy decision as to refrain from any discussion with government related to Bill C-33 or other matters being handled by the Confederacy Coordinating Committee (CoNCC),” said the motion.
The AFN executive which had taken the over the role of national chief following Shawn Atleo’s resignation.
The Confederacy is also demanding Ottawa to pay for the cost Wednesday’s meeting, the travel of all the delegates and the work of its technical staff, according to the same motion which was moved by Thunderchild Chief Delbert Wapass and seconded by Muskrat Dam Chief Gordon Beardy.
The CoNCC is made up of one chief from each region.
A planned AFN chiefs committee on education meeting scheduled for Thursday was also suspended by the Confederacy which will meet in its stead at the Ottawa Convention centre, according to the same motion.
APTN National News contacted Wapass about the motion but he refused to even confirm whether it was adopted. Wapass referred questions to Quebec and Labrador regional Chief Ghislain Picard who was co-chair of the Confederacy meeting.
Picard was also spokesperson for the AFN executive and signed a letter sent to Beardy last week rejecting his request for a Confederacy meeting.
While none on the chiefs interviewed by APTN National News following the Confederacy meeting mentioned the resolution, they all said the gathering represented a significant moment.
“It is historic because the Confederacy of Nations is coming back together,” said Six Nations Chief Ava Hill. “I see things going back into the control of the chiefs where it should have been.”
Hill said she was there in 1982 when the Confederacy was enshrined in the AFN charter and the debate raged over whether it should be called a confederacy of nations or chiefs. Hill said it’s time to scrap designating the nations as nations instead of regions denoted by provinces.
“I don’t want to come to these meetings anymore and sit as part of the Ontario delegation,” said Hill. “I am part of the Iroquois caucus.”
Dene Nation Chief Bill Eramsus, who is also regional chief for the Northwest Territories, said the Confederacy allows each nation to bring its strengths to the table.
“It was designed to bring the nations together and we pick the people we would like to speak, the best people on whatever subject,” said “It’s time for the Confederacy to flourish.”
Beardy, whose Ontario chief led the push for the Confederacy, said he believed the crisis over education warranted the reawakening of the governing body, which is part of the AFN’s charter.
“In the last 10 years there was no real national crisis to invoke it, but this time the leadership of Ontario felt it was very important,” said Beardy.
Ottawa resident Linda Nothing, who attended the meeting as a grassroots person, said she felt the Confederacy was more open to the needs and desires of the grassroots.
“I feel this is more inclusive. I feel that they make a point of referring back to their community members,” said Nothing, who is from Bearskin Lake First Nation. “They make a point of referring back to their community members and how they are getting texts and calls. I think it’s more inclusive of community voices.”
The Confederacy of Nations is made up of one representative from each of the 10 regions, plus an additional delegate for every 10,000 status Indians in each region.
Only chiefs can vote during general AFN meetings, meaning a chief from a community with 500 people has as much say as a chief from a community of 25,000 people.
A special AFN chiefs assembly is scheduled for May 27.