Northern First Nations need own meeting, says chief
Northern chiefs are pushing for a separate meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper that zeros in on issues confronting aboriginal communities in Canada's North.
The housing and infrastructure crisis in Attawapiskat, Ont., has propelled the issue of living conditions in First Nations communities onto the national agenda.
Talks have been scheduled between the Crown and aboriginal leaders on Jan. 24., but one northern leader says Ottawa's response to Attawapiskat crisis does not set a good tone for the meeting.
Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, who is also the N.W.T. regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, says communities in Canada's North deserve a seperate discussion.
Many aboriginal communities in the territories have signed land claims and self-government agreements, creating a unique situation for those settlements. A conversation between the Crown and northern chiefs could shed light on models of self-government.
"What we're anticipating is that there needs to be a section that deals with northern issues, because in many instances we're not included because the incentives are primarily directed to First Nations on reserves, so we want to talk about a northern component that makes sense for us," said Erasmus.
Erasmus said the federal government's handling of the Attawapiskat situation is indicative of how far apart the two sides can be.
"What they're doing is they're blaming the community for what is happening, so it's blaming the victim. And we're going to be lucky if we can see any kind of change that is positive," he said.
"If this meeting can do one thing that can turn that around, it's going to make progress."
Harper wants 'accountable' self-government
On Friday, Harper was asked by reporters about how he sees Ottawa's relations with the First Nations community evolving.
"I think the long-term goal of everybody is to have strong, accountable systems of self-government for aboriginal communities," he said at an event in Burlington, Ont.
"I think we all realize we're not going to get there in one giant leap, but I continue to look forward and continue to enjoy working with [AFN National Chief Shawn] Atleo and other communities to move us in that direction," he added.
Harper has not said if will consider scrapping the Indian Act, the document that largely defines the relationship between the government and First Nations, particularly those that live on reserves.