5 things to know about the First Nations meetings
Crucial meetings on future of Canada's Aboriginal Peoples hang in balance as last-minute talks continue
A group of First Nations leaders chose not to attend Friday's meeting with the prime minister, saying the Governor General, who is slated to hold a "ceremonial" meeting later in the day, should be at the main event.
Here's a look at what was expected to happen — and what may not proceed as planned — on Friday.
What meetings are taking place?
The plan released earlier this week called for two meetings.
- The first is a meeting between First Nations leaders and the prime minister. It will take place Friday afternoon in a massive building known as Langevin Block opposite Parliament Hill that houses the Prime Minister's Office and staff. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and National Chief Sean Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations are expected to open the meeting. Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan and Treasury Board president Tony Clement are scheduled to attend for the government side.
- The second meeting is at 6:30 p.m. ET at Rideau Hall. It's described as a "ceremonial" meeting between Governor General David Johnston and First Nations leaders.
A meeting with the Governor General has been a sticking point because even though Johnston's power is symbolic, aboriginal spokespeople have insisted that since original treaties were signed with the Crown, they must meet with a representative of the Queen.
Will First Nations attend the meetings?
A delegation of AFN chiefs did attend the meeting in the prime minister's office about 1 p.m. ET Friday, but chiefs from Ontario, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories were not listed among the chiefs in attendance.
The Manitoba chiefs, along with Ontario chiefs, held to the hard line they drew during a press conference Thursday at Ottawa's Delta Hotel. The Manitoba chiefs said the prime minister and Governor General would have to meet them on their terms, at the hotel, or they would not attend.
Grand Chief Gordon Peters of Ontario went further Friday, saying protesters would block rail lines in Ontario next Wednesday and said they'd make it clear to international investors their resource extraction projects are not safe if the government pushes through developments without consulting First Nations.
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence repeated Friday her own position that she would not attend unless the prime minister and Governor General were at the same meeting. Her spokesperson told media Friday Spence is continuing her hunger strike.
Could the meetings fall through?
That was a possibility right until word came shortly before 1 p.m. ET that National Chief Shawn Atleo and others had entered Langevin Block. The Prime Minister's Office and aboriginal affairs minister's office had said all morning the meetings were still scheduled. The Assembly of First Nations did not given any official indication that Atleo and his delegation would not be meeting, despite the statements by some chiefs that the meeting would be called off unless it happened on their terms.
Dene Chief Bill Erasmus, who sits on the AFN's executive, told CBC News on Thursday night that efforts to negotiate a compromise – perhaps moving to a bigger room with more chiefs in attendance or including the Governor General after all – would continue until noon on Friday. Erasmus said Atleo supported the idea of moving the venue, and Atleo had called for a meeting that would include the Governor General from the start.
Behind-the-scenes talks between senior chiefs and Harper staff had been going on all week.
What do First Nations want?
Many of the goals expressed Thursday by the Manitoba chiefs and the AFN were overarching and amorphous: "fundamental transformation, implementing the treaty relationship on a treaty by treaty and and nation by nation relationship" and "new arrangements."
But there are also a number of specific suggestions. Among them:
- Rescinding the environmental provisions, such as changes to fisheries and to protection of rivers and streams in two omnibus budget bills.
- Action on missing aboriginal women, estimated by some to number over 2,000.
- A school in every native community.
- Mandatory education in all schools about treaty rights.
- Removal of the two per cent cap on aboriginal education funding.
- Mechanisms to eventually replace the Indian Act.
- Better arrangements about resource revenue sharing on aboriginal territories.
More details emerged Friday with the release of eight "elements of consensus" from the AFN excecutive.
Will things change in the future?
On Thursday, Atleo called this moment "unlike any other in the history of our peoples." He used the phrases "fork in the road" and a "time to act." Although there are many influencing factors, one phenomenon Atleo and others reference often is the burgeoning aboriginal population and its new weight of educated, social media-savvy young people who are anxious and impatient for change.
But in the space of a few weeks, the loosely tied movement has helped force an unscheduled meeting with the prime minister and members of his cabinet, and an unprecedented (because it was due to pressure) meeting with the Governor General.
However, Bellegard, the AFN regional chief said Thursday, "We recognize that the meeting on Friday is just one day. There has to be a high level of commitment."
With files from CBC News