Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. commits to annual leaders forum with Aboriginal leaders

Premier Dwight Ball says he's showing his commitment to a government-to-government relationship with Aboriginal leaders by implementing an annual leaders forum.

Premier Dwight Ball says he's focused on government-to-government relations

Dwight Ball says his government will host the first annual leaders forum with Indigenous groups by the spring of 2017. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Premier Dwight Ball says his government is taking its commitment to Aboriginal leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador "a step further" by holding an annual leaders forum with representatives from all traditional and Aboriginal communities.

"I need to get our Aboriginal communities, and Indigenous people, the opportunity to – not just on a daily basis – but really have that one annual forum where we share the agendas we set ourselves for the coming months," Ball said Wednesday morning.

He said the first such meeting will be in the spring of 2017.

'Simple, fundamental belief'

As minister responsible for Aboriginal affairs, Ball said he made that commitment with the desire to focus on a government-to-government relationship with Aboriginal leaders in the province.

"People often ask me, how does a fellow that grew up in a small town, in Deer Lake on the west coast, why do you feel that you should be the minister responsible for Aboriginal affairs?" Ball mused.

"It was because of this simple, fundamental belief that I hold: If you're going to be premier, and you're going to make a commitment to a government-to-government relationship … then you should be the leader with your Aboriginal community as well."

The premier said the government first shared the plan to hold these annual meetings in October, included in what it calls a "vision document" titled "The Way Forward."

In the document, the government said each year the premier "will invite leaders of Indigenous governments and organizations, including native friendship centres and Indigenous women's organizations, to meet and establish priority actions."

It said the government will invite leaders to participate in the first meeting by June 30, 2017.

Mi'sel Joe, chief of the Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River, is one of the Indigenous leaders Dwight Ball hopes will attend the first annual leaders' forum. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

'Our rock'

Chief Mi'sel Joe of the Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River attended the Canada 150 event in St. John's Wednesday where Ball made the remarks about the annual meeting with Aboriginal leaders.

He said everyone in their Mi'kmaq community is a "partner," and provincial and federal governments are partners as well.

"I don't want to offend the premier, but for people who have come from outside Newfoundland, welcome to our rock," Joe said.

"Don't tell him that. He thinks it's his rock, but really it's our rock."

Ball said he expected the chief and members of other Aboriginal communities to be at the first meeting in the spring.