First Nations Chiefs Threaten to Boycott Meeting with Harper Unless He Comes to Them

Heather Scottfield, National Post, January 11, 2013

A cloud of confusion has descended over a First Nations meeting with the Prime Minister on Friday, with several chiefs demanding that Stephen Harper meet them on their own turf on their own terms.

One region after another declared that it was supporting Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence in her call to refuse a meeting with Mr. Harper unless Gov.-Gen. David Johnston was at his side. Their stand leaves the head of Canada’s largest aboriginal group—National Chief Shawn Atleo—largely isolated.


Shawn Atleo

The internal turmoil is over logistics and process, and not over policy. After days and days of discussions, the chiefs and delegates actually have a consensus on what their demands would be, if the prime minister and governor general ever do meet with them.

One region after another declared that it was supporting Chief Spence in her call to refuse a meeting with Harper unless Gov.-Gen David Johnston was at his side.

“This is not simply one chief making demands on location and format for a meeting. Chief Theresa Spence is merely setting forward a call for truth and integrity from the prime minister,” said Isadore Day, a chief from northern Ontario. “She fights on behalf of over a million indigenous peoples in this country.”

Even if the meeting with Harper proceeds, Day predicted only a handful of chiefs would attend.

“There will clearly be no mandate to negotiate.”

Still, earlier in the day, the chiefs had overcome regional tensions and actually agreed to a united, concrete list of demands that they wanted to present to Harper.

They want to see a school and clean drinking water on every reserve. They want Ottawa to commit to a national inquiry into the hundreds of missing or murdered aboriginal girls and women. They want a top-level political commitment to modernize and implement treaties so that First Nations share in the wealth of Canada’s resources. They want stable funding that grows with population and inflation.

And they want Harper to repeal major parts of his two budget omnibus bills that they say sacrifice environmental protection to resource extraction.

Atleo vowed to take those concerns forward on Thursday night in a humble but emotional plea for unity from chiefs. He admitted he had made mistakes and that the membership of the Assembly of First Nations was divided. What he left unsaid was whether any meeting with Mr. Harper would take place at all, or how he would proceed.

“This is not a perfect organization and I am not a perfect person. I accept a share of responsibility and I have responded to criticisms from last January,” Chief Atleo told a rowdy, crowded room of chiefs and delegates.

“We need to continue to stand united—chiefs, delegates…. If we are to be divided at a moment like this, the governments will see that.”

He then left the conference hall, with insiders indicating he would work through the night with his executives in order to figure out the best way forward.

Some of his allies insisted he would meet with Mr. Harper and cabinet ministers as planned on Friday afternoon—in private, in the prime minister’s office with a relatively small delegation of chiefs.

Mr. Harper and a handful of ministers agreed to meet aboriginal leaders behind the Idle No More movement for four hours on Friday. The Governor General has agreed to play host to them later in the day, at a separate ceremonial meeting.

Chief Atleo himself suggested he would hold the meeting, and then push for a broader meeting on Jan. 24, and a commitment to hold broad, open meetings with chiefs at regular intervals.

“We need them to commit to sit with you on a regular, ongoing basis, look you in the eye the way it was done in the treaty-making, in a sacred manner. And let’s transform this relationship. Because our kids are dependent on every single one of us,” he said.

But other chiefs said the only way any legitimate conversation would take place on Friday is if Mr. Harper and Gov.-Gen. Johnston come to them, in a large open venue.

“The door’s open. We expect the [prime] minister to come here and meet with us,” said Murray Clearsky, southern grand chief from Manitoba.

“If he doesn’t we’ll probably have to go home and regroup.”

Chief Atleo’s rival from last summer’s elections for national chief was delighted with the turn of events.

“This is all good. We are standing up for our people again. The chiefs have said we’re the decision-makers. We’re going to have a nation-to-nation relationship and this is good for our people. This is what they asked for,” said Pam Palmater, an expert in indigenous governance who is also a de facto spokeswoman for the Idle No More movement of grassroots protesters.

“The chiefs have said we’re not meeting with Harper. So if AFN decided to meet with Harper, it wouldn’t be a valid meeting. Because the AFN only has authority when chiefs give them authority. The chiefs have said we don’t give them that authority.”

The stakes for the Harper meetings are high.

They were meant to fuse energy into talks to modernize treaties and discuss economic development, while also quelling a growing wave of protests and blockades organized by the Idle No More movement that has found inspiration in the form of Chief Spence.

Atleo and other chiefs warned sternly on Thursday that without meaningful action from the federal government, Canada should expect more unrest.

“We’ve got the geography covered,” Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak told a news conference Thursday. With First Nations and their supporters mobilizing across the country, they have the power to “bring the Canadian economy to its knees.”

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  • Sue

    Bring a nation to it’s knees…………..are we listening?

  • I notice one thing that is missing from their demands. Money for education and job training for First Nations people so they can learn to be self sufficient. If they did, this would lessen their demands for more freebies.

  • Hal K

    According to Wikipedia, the aboriginal people are ~4% of the population of Canada. In the United States they are only ~1%.

    There is no way 4% of the population could bring a nation to its knees without political correctness on its side.

    • The__Bobster

      There is no way that a certain 12.6% of our population would have any power at all unless we allowed them.

    • StillModerated

      I recently heard an advertisement on the radio about some loan shark operating out of the Cheyenne River Sioux territory. Methinks some other sort of tribal help is behind this scam.

  • Whine Whine Whine

    “the Idle No More movement”
    “Idle No More” – What are they going to do, go out and get jobs?

    • I’m worried that in all their idleness, they might take to drinking.

  • Flytrap

    Harper should say, “I need a little more time, my dogs are sick.” because he should be arriving on a dog sled.

  • The__Bobster

    Cut them off and let them fend for themselves. They’ll come back begging.

    • 5n4k33y35

      Would you rather let progressive Jews be the ones to mediate the relationship between whites and natives?

      The idea is to be more accommodating to natives and far less accommodating to blacks and far less beholden to Jews.

  • dhs

    Chief Alto’s gaping mouth reminds me of MLK’s gaping mouth.

    Blacks can take great pride in being the pioneers in taking down Whitey.

  • “Eskimos threaten to bring Canada to a grinding halt.”

    Yep, that’s right, mister. Igloo construction stops RIGHT ABOOT NOW~! Eh?

    • FourFooted_Messiah

      Jeff Dunham show, after Jeff started losing it after 2:15 or so. A heckler decided to shout something to help out. Walter’s response: “How aboot I kick yer ass, EH?!”

      The audience roared with laughter.

      • OlderWoman

        What does that have to do with this article?

  • bigone4u

    If these “Firsters” want a school and clean water, do what intelligent resourceful people do: build a school, hire a schoolmarm, and dig a well. As white Americans moved west in the 1800s that is exactly what they did.

  • NorthernWind

    We should give up some of our land and give it to them. Each nation should receive a part of land that roughly equates to their historical land. Obviously omitting areas which have been heavily settled already. Then we could offer them a final “reparations” package; a single lump sum payment. This would end their political ties with Canada. They would get self-government and have to take care of themselves in all respects, from schools to jails to courts of law.

    • FourFooted_Messiah

      Hah. They have lots of land (mostly the North) and in Ontario, can kill at will the inhabitants of provincial parklands.

      The Dene have an astounding amount of say in Northern BC and South-West NWT, and even run resource support industries out of Fort Nelson BC and Fort Liard, NWT. as well as Fort Simpson, NWT. That’s just from personal experience, they probably run a lot more than that up north.

      • IstvanIN

        But they do not have complete independence from Canada, and that is what he means, no more welfare from Ottawa.

  • Hans Schneider

    it is high time for the Indian Act to be scrapped by the governement of Canada and make the indians equal citizens with the same rights and duties.Most indian reserves are hell holes of booze and drug culture.

    • FourFooted_Messiah

      It isn’t that – it’s that reserve kids, bored from not having to go out and get summer jobs and such, resort to inhalants as “fun”. When I say inhalants, I don’t mean smokable things like, say, pot or even crack or meth. I mean things like Liquid Paper and stuff that was never meant for the purpose they put it to (and I despise meth, btw; it’s the stupidest “drug” that came down the pike UNLESS you are a workaholic or jet fighter pilot on long, boring patrols – but I will maintain it is NOT a “recreational” drug whatsoever, and folks who think it is are just, well, stupid. There’s no way you can relax on that stuff; it’s a workaholic’s drug, best used sparingly when you need it to get a long bitch of a task done that you otherwise couldn’t stand to do.)

      Maybe if band payments and other such handouts were removed, the kids would have something else to do?

      • Nathanwartooth

        Other stimulants like Adderall are good for studying for tests in college. But yeah I would agree with the meth rant.

        I am in no way condoning drug use. Drugs are bad. Mmmk?

  • IstvanIN

    Our unified position will be to the prime minister, to the Governor
    General….provided that the prime minister meets the requests of Chief Theresa
    Spence to ensure the presence of the Governor General,” said Manitoba’s
    grand chief, Derek Nepinak.

    First Nations signed their treaties with a representative of the Queen, and since this week’s meetings are about modernizing those treaties, they need the Queen’s representative
    present once again, said David Harper, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak in the northern part of the province.

    “If he’s absent, there will be no dialogue.”

  • Zapp Branigan

    These so called “chiefs” are in charge of small villages, and are demanding to be treated like heads of state and they expect the leader of the Canadian government to come to them on their terms as if they were the leaders of a large country.

    • IstvanIN

      Considering the exalted view they have of themselves I am surprised they haven’t demanded the Queen herself appear.

  • Unperson

    With First Nations and their supporters mobilizing across the country, they have the power to “bring the Canadian economy to its knees.”
    Well, the carved soapstone seal sector of the economy, anyway. Because those and Ookpik dolls are the only “economic activity” I’ve ever seen come out of Canada’s far north.

  • OlderWoman

    Kevin Annett’s comments about fake government appointed chief Theresa Spence.

  • StillModerated

    What’s going on with the more-chins-than-a-Chinese-phonebook evangelical behind the bigmouth?

  • Michael_C_Scott

    If I was Harper, I would ignore these loudmouths and their temper tantrum. If they want to block access to their own areas, I guess that means groceries, refined fuel, manufactured products, clothing and medication won’t be getting in. Oh; I nearly forgot: let’s also keep in mind that liquor won’t be getting in, either.