Indigenous

First Nations leaders kick off annual meeting in Regina

An ongoing suicide crisis, the beleaguered inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and police relations will be among the many hot topics of discussion as hundreds of First Nations chiefs sit down for three days of meetings starting Tuesday.

Several federal cabinet ministers to attend meetings that run through Thursday

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaks during the opening of the Assembly of First Nations annual general meeting in Regina on Tuesday. (Mark Taylor/Canadian Press)

An ongoing suicide crisis, the beleaguered inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and police relations will be among the many hot topics of discussion as hundreds of First Nations chiefs sit down for three days of meetings starting Tuesday.

The Assembly of First Nations annual meeting at Evraz Place in central Regina kicks off with an address from National Chief Perry Bellegarde before chiefs hear from several federal cabinet ministers, including Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is also expected to attend, but isn't scheduled to speak.

"Certainly there's a lot of issues than can be discussed, but I'm hoping this week that child welfare reform is heavy on the agenda, health reform is heavy on the agenda," said Heather Bear, vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.

Bear added that Saskatchewan chiefs want to push the federal government to fully adhere to a 2016 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling on equal health and child welfare funding for on-reserve kids.

Federal presence

Most of the federal ministers will be at the meetings on Tuesday.

That's when the minister of Indigenous affairs is scheduled to provide chiefs with an update on progress towards a "new fiscal relationship" with First Nations that was promised by the Liberal government at last year's meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont.

FSIN vice-chief Heather Bear said leaders will use the Regina meetings to raise several high-profile issues with the federal government. (Brandon Harder/CBC)

Pipelines and other natural resource projects will also likely be on the minds of many Indigenous leaders when McKenna offers an update on the ongoing federal environmental and regulatory review.

'A matter of moving justice'

Bear said Saskatchewan chiefs want to use the meetings to discuss the Colten Boushie case — about a 22-year-old Red Pheasant First Nation man who was shot dead on a farm in 2016.

Colten Boushie was killed on a farm near Biggar, Sask., in August 2016. (Facebook)

"A matter of justice there," she said. "We are looking to call on Canada to allow that case to have an independent prosecutor."

Goodale and Wilson-Raybould, a former regional chief for B.C. and current federal justice minister, are set to speak to the assembly today.

MMIWG, UN declaration

Also on the agenda is the landmark United Nation Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognizes Indigenous people's basic human rights, as well as rights to self-determination, language, equality and land, among others.

Canada removed its permanent objector status to the declaration in 2016 and vowed to bring all the country's laws in line with it, but many First Nations leaders are frustrated by the lack of speed of the process.

Michèle Audette, a commissioner in the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, said recent resignations are no cause to worry. (Radio-Canada)

Victoria Tauli Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, will address chiefs on Tuesday.

The beleaguered national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will also come under the microscope when commissioners Michèle Audette and Brian Eyolfson appear on Wednesday amid intense scrutiny and calls for the inquiry to undergo a reset.

With files from Bonnie Allen

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