Northern aboriginal leaders attend Crown meeting

More than 400 chiefs from across the country gathered in Ottawa Tuesday to hear presentations from the Prime Minister. But many northern leaders are skeptical the one-day meeting was enough time to make a dent in some serious issues.

Many chiefs skeptical day-long meeting made dent in serious issues

Atleo, Harper and Johnston met with more than 400 chiefs and aboriginal leaders from around the country in Ottawa today. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

More than 400 chiefs from all over Canada gathered in Ottawa Tuesday to hear presentations from the Prime Minister, the Governor General and the Assembly of First Nations National Chief.

The meeting was an effort to improve relations between First Nations and the Crown.

Six Chiefs from the Northwest Territories were there along with the Conservative member of Parliament for Nunavut, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

It was standing room only as the chiefs listened to the Prime Minister and Aglukkaq talk about improving relations with First Nations people. Aglukkaq also spoke to the aboriginal leaders.

"Resources - we are working with first nations to yes deal with the challenges but also look at ways that we can work with the resources, such as mining, exploration," said Aglukkaq.

But not everyone was impressed, including Dene National Chief, Bill Erasmus.

"I was not too happy with the meeting. It was as if his words were not filled with much substance and I feel like we were going back 30, 40 years," he said about Harper’s words.

But Erasmus said it was important that northerners were present at the meeting.

"We were there, from the Gwich’in, the Dene, the Tlicho, and we need to make sure that we have our northern perspectives. We do need to ensure our voices are heard and yes, this is the beginning of a new relationship," he said.

Gwich'in Tribal Council president Richard Nerysoo agreed that their presence was important.

"We're the ones sitting outside the door without the government being prepared to recognize or listen to our advice on the quality of the government - we see others having the benefits to lands and resources to which they have no treaties – that’s the whole conversation we are having here," he said.

The Yukon Vice Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Eric Morris, had a more hopeful outlook. He said he thinks the meeting could lead to change.

Morris said Yukon First Nations are well-positioned compared to their southern counterparts because most in the Yukon are self-governing.

"The land claim agreements and the compensation gave them an opportunity to look at being able to generate economic opportunities for their communities and for their governments. So I think from that perspective, Yukon First Nations that hold self-government agreements have been able to have that bit of an edge," he said.

But Morris said other problems remain, such as shortfalls in funding agreements and negotiators who don't understand the original spirit of the Yukon land claims.

Morris added that a one-day meeting isn't long enough to make a dent in the issues confronting First Nations across the country.