Harper government on collision course with First Nations?

The federal government appears to be heading toward a collision course with First Nations on a wide range of issues — from pipelines, to education, and how to end violence against indigenous women and girls.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, says there's nothing the federal government can put on the table to get them on board Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The federal government's push to get First Nations leaders on board with the building of oil pipelines in the West Coast is not having the desired effect, says a First Nations leader in B.C.

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told host Evan Solomon the federal government was nowhere to be seen until earlier this month, when he received a flurry of requests from various ministerial departments asking to meet with him.

When asked by Solomon whether this "charm offensive" was working, Phillips said it's leaving members of his group with "a very uneasy feeling" that the federal government's approach is not in the best interest of First Nations.

It's the nature of this government to simply bulldoze their way through any concerns that are expressed by anyone.- Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs

The Grand Chief said he met with Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver who, according to Phillip, sat there and repeated his talking points "ad nauseam."

"It was a rather strange meeting. We sat there and talked past each other," Phillip said.

Oliver told reporters gathered for a news conference in New York on Tuesday that the meetings are part of the federal government's effort to ensure that "aboriginal communities are engaged early in the process and that they derive benefits from these projects."

First Nations in B.C. have been registering their concerns about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline through a hearing process that began in January 2012.

The Joint Review Panel hearings for the proposed Northern Gateway project concluded in June. The panel is expected to present its report to Oliver by Dec. 31, 2013.

Asked what it would take for the federal government to get First Nations on board at this stage in the process, Phillip said "there's nothing that [the government] can put on the table that is going to satisfy the concerns that have been expressed through the joint panel review hearings."

"It's the nature of this government to simply bulldoze their way through any concerns that are expressed by anyone," Phillip said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Monday following an announcement in B.C. that "the government is not a proponent of particular pipeline projects. We have established independent, complete, scientific evaluations of projects."

"The government will respond to those projects when the reports are released. And of course, consultations with First Nations communities are part of the process," Harper added. 


The federal government is faring no better on education, a plank that is said to be the centrepiece of their aboriginal policy this fall, said Phillip, who met with Valcourt as recently as Thursday.

In fact, the Assembly of First Nations, along with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit and the BC Assembly of First Nations called on the federal government to abandon the current draft legislation for First Nations education in a joint news release on Friday.

"It doesn't represent the views of the First Nations and yet the Harper government is ramming this through," Phillip said.

The federal government maintains it continues to consult and seek input from First Nations on developing a First Nations Education Act, which it is intent on introducing when Parliament resumes.

In July, the federal government issued a "blueprint" for First Nations education based on the work of the 2012 national Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education, and following months of consultation.

But the AFN has rejected the proposed legislation and First Nations leaders in B.C. say work is already well underway through the B.C. First Nations Education System.

"In B.C. we have developed our own solutions to First Nations control over First Nations education, solutions that are working and need to be supported," said B.C.'s AFN Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould in a written statement.

Valcourt was also in B.C. attending an annual event held by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo, in a second news release issued on Friday, reminded the federal government that the abuse and experiments that occurred in residential schools would not have happened "had First Nations been in control of their own education."

The federal government maintains that it is committed to achieving "a fair and lasting" resolution to the legacy of Indian residential schools. And while it is working on turning over all residential school documents to the TRC, the commission's mandate expires on July 1, 2014.

Violence against aboriginal women

In an open letter also issued on Friday, the AFN called on Harper to reconvene a special Commons committee looking into violence against Indigenous women,  following his decision to prorogue Parliament until Oct. 16.

"We call on you to ensure that it is fully restored and empowered to resume its work on this matter in an inclusive and comprehensive way," Atleo said in joint letter signed by the Native Women's Association of Canada and Amnesty International.

In a written statement sent to CBC News on Friday, a spokesperson for Valcourt said the federal government "has been clear that we support the Committee's work and that we are committed to continuing to take action to address the unacceptable levels of violence against aboriginal women."

The open letter to Harper comes a day after Canada rejected a UN review of violence on aboriginal women.

James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, is scheduled to conduct his own inquiry during an official visit to Canada from Oct. 7-15.

The special rapporteur will examine the human-rights situation and living conditions of Canada's aboriginal Peoples.


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