Assembly of First Nations chief Shawn Atleo is hailing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s offer to meet personally with the country’s Native leaders as a major step forward for aboriginal rights and priorities, as well as for relations with the federal government.
“This will be an important event for us, one that reflects on our historic and enduring relationship but, more importantly, advances a very focused agenda about the future,” Atleo wrote in a statement on the AFN’s Web site on December 22. “I believe we have the opportunity to set out concrete plans to transform the approach to First Nation education, economies and governments affirming and respecting our rights. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has responded to our call to work in respectful partnership to craft concrete plans for progress on our priorities. Commitment and follow-through will be essential, but I do find this to be an encouraging development.”
In a letter made public at the end of the Assembly of First Nations’ three-day conference in Gatineau, Quebec, Harper offered to meet with Atleo and other leaders to discuss various issues facing the aboriginal population, including education, health care, housing and drinking water.
Harper also said he would be open to participating in a proposed Crown-First Nation gathering and that the government is “committed to working with First Nation Groups and other willing partners to develop options, including new legislation, to improve the governance framework and clarify accountability for First Nation elementary and secondary education.”
Such a meeting would be a milestone in the relationship between Canada’s native population and Canada’s Conservative government, according to the Toronto Star, and a first for Harper since he came to office in 2006. The letter comes right on the heels of Canada’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples a few weeks earlier.
“The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is now a reality, and First Nations are taking action to transform our communities, governments and our relationship with Canada,” Atleo said, according to the Star, in closing the December 14–16 Special Chiefs Assembly (SCA). Canada’s aboriginal communities are “no longer looking in the rearview mirror at the Indian Act but focusing our gaze forward on our vision of a brighter future founded on the principles of our treaties, our rights and the UN Declaration.”