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Behind the scenes, progress is being made, said Bellegarde


By Shari Narine Windspeaker Contributor OTTAWA







It is a “work in progress,” said Assembly of First Nations Saskatchewan Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde of what has been accomplished since the Jan. 11 meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

While there is nothing on paper, talks have continued and Bellegarde is hopeful that those talks will lead to a presentation to the chiefs at a National Treaty Forum at Whitecap Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan March 26 and March 27.

“Treaty implementation process is treaty by treaty.  It is not AFN to drive this. Not FSIN to drive this. It’s going to be done treaty by treaty, Nation by Nation. It’s also re-establishing and shining up that relationship we have with the Crown because it’s been breached so many times,” said Bellegarde, who is also head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

Since the meeting with Harper, Bellegarde has met personally with the clerk of the Privy Council. Other meetings have taken place with the Prime Minister’s office staff and officials.

Parameters and terms of reference are being put in place, said Bellegarde.

At the Jan. 11 meeting Harper committed to a high level political process on treaty implementation and comprehensive claims policy.  Work is now being undertaken to determine what that means and what it will look like.

Bellegarde said possibilities include a restructuring of the federal government and departments, perhaps even a treaty commissioner appointed by Parliament or a new department devoted to Crown-First Nations relations.

“There are so many things that can happen. So what really are we talking about here?” asked Bellegarde.

Bellegarde said progress is “going to take time. It’s a month later… We’re not going to solve this overnight.”

In a nine-page Crown-First Nations Gathering Progress Report released by the federal government at the end of January, it is stated that “our government continues to make progress in priority areas identified in the Crown First Nations Gathering Outcome Statement, however, more work remains to be done. We remain committed to working with Aboriginal leaders who choose to work with our government to improve living conditions and create jobs and economic growth in First Nations communities.”

At the Jan. 11 meeting, AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo presented Harper with an eight-point document hammered out by the chiefs: the establishment of a framework for the implementation of treaties; reformation of the comprehensive lands claim policy; resource revenue sharing; legislation consistent with Sect. 35 of the Canadian Constitution and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; a fiscal relationship that removes caps to funding; a national inquiry into violence against Indigenous women and girls; improved education services; and a new government mechanism to address the work that needs to be undertaken.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, the NDP and Liberals have been pushing the government for answers and action. A series of questions were directed at Harper and then-Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan on Jan. 30.

As well, NDP Aboriginal Affairs critic, Jean Crowder, tabled a motion “that the House, recognizing the broad-based demand for action, calls on the government to make the improvement of economic outcomes of First Nations, Inuit and Métis a central focus of Budget 2013, and to commit to action on treaty implementation and full and meaningful consultation on legislation that affects the rights of Aboriginal Canadians, as required by domestic and international law.”

Since then, the NDP continues to hammer away at the government in Question Period on First Nations issues, ranging from increased funding for First Nations education and children’s welfare services to a public inquiry on murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls to food security to improved economic outcomes.

The NDP pledged to bring forward initiatives for First Nations in the House of Commons in a document it signed, along with the Liberals, which resulted in Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and Cross Lake First Nation Elder Raymond Robinson ending their hunger strike on Jan. 24.