'Don't be fooled,' says chief skeptical of Ottawa on 1st day of AFN meetings
Change is coming, promises justice minister at Assembly of First Nations meeting in Regina
From criticism of the federal government's treatment of First Nations children to the announcement of a new fiscal relationship with Ottawa, it was a busy first day of talks at the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting in Regina on Tuesday.
Hundreds of First Nations chiefs from across the country are in Regina until Thursday to discuss the biggest issues facing their communities, as well as to hear from a number of federal cabinet ministers in attendance.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna spoke to chiefs about the work the Liberal government is doing with First Nations communities.
Not everyone was buying it, however.
"Don't be fooled, ladies and gentlemen," said Wallace Fox, chief of the Onion Lake Cree Nation, which straddles the Alberta and Saskatchewan border, when Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett took questions from the audience.
"[The Liberal government] says the right things, but nothing has changed at the community level."
'Conflict and court action the norm'
Earlier in the day, Bennett announced changes to Ottawa's fiscal policy toward First Nations, including the ability of communities to carry over funding between years.
Fox said that policy is only a benefit if a First Nation has the money to spend in the first place — and he said not enough do.
Wilson-Raybould, who was an AFN regional chief for B.C. before entering federal politics, said she understood the skepticism among chiefs.
She called for patience among leaders and vowed that Canada was moving from the current state of relations with Indigenous Peoples, where she said conflict and court action are the norm, to a near future when they would be the exception.
"Some of you may not be believing that this is actually happening," she said.
"To those of you who would think this way, I would say to you, under the leadership of this prime minister and from the perspective of my seat, it is happening."
During Bennett's speech to chiefs, she spoke about the need to redesign the First Nations child welfare system, in which thousands of children are in custody across the country.
"We have to dismantle the First Nations child welfare industry," she said.
Some would be concerned with the Liberal Govts current legal fight when reflecting on this statement, <a href="https://twitter.com/Carolyn_Bennett">@Carolyn_Bennett</a> <br><br>Let's do better—@aaronpaquette
Earlier this week, Saskatchewan chiefs said they are planning to use these meetings to push the federal government into complying.
Other federal announcements made on Tuesday include a $9.2-million contribution from Indigenous Affairs to the White Bear First Nation in Saskatchewan for a new water treatment facility that will end a long-standing boil-water advisory, and $2.2 million from the Justice Department for a five-year crime prevention project in La Loche, Sask.
Victoria Tauli Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, addressed chiefs on Tuesday to speak about an international perspective.
On Wednesday, Day 2 of the AFN assembly, chiefs will get down to business in several plenary sessions where they'll discuss strategies for improving things like housing, health and justice.
The beleaguered inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will also come under scrutiny when commissioners Michèle Audette and Brian Eyolfson appear amid controversy and calls for the inquiry to undergo a reset.