What a ‘nation-to-nation’ relationship with Indigenous Canadians should look like

Once again, Canada’s First Ministers have gathered for their annual summer Council of the Federation, being held this year in Edmonton. The agenda includes trade and Trump, pot and the provinces, infrastructure and investment. It also featured a meeting with representatives of five national Indigenous organizations to discuss issues of concern to their communities.

At least it did, until three of the five organizations pulled out on the first day. On Monday morning, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Métis Nation President Clément Chartier decided not to attend, citing a “number of concerns about the structuring” of the meeting. In a news conference in Toronto, Bellegarde stated that “over the past year, it’s become apparent in some federal and provincial forums, there’s a bit of a push to try to exclude or limit Indigenous peoples’ involvement in a very meaningful, substantive way.”

For the average non-Indigenous Canadian, this probably is a little surprising, considering that the current federal government came to office on a promise of “a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.” Since then, however, Indigenous leaders have grown increasingly angry over serial broken promises and failed initiatives. These include the Trudeau government’s refusal to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Canadian law, the approval of two major oil pipelines and the rolling meltdown of the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

None of this is the provinces’ fault, of course. But dashed expectations at the federal level have contributed to a simmering frustration with political elites at all levels, and a sense that the “nation-to-nation” concept is turning out to be more empty words. “We’re not ethnic minorities,” Bellegarde said. “We are Indigenous peoples, we have the right to self-determination. Because we have our own lands, we have our own laws, we have our own languages, we have our own identifiable peoples and we have our own identifiable forms of government. So that inherent right must be respected.”

Respected, yes — but they need to be defined as well. And this is where the demands of the three Indigenous leaders overreach in terms of this particular meeting.

Read the full article on iPolitics.

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