Indigenous leaders boycott 'segregated' premiers meeting in Edmonton

Leaders from the three national Indigenous organizations will skip the first ministers meeting in Edmonton this week, saying the format doesn't adhere to the spirit of reconciliation.

'We are not just another special interest group,' says AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde says Indigenous leaders will not participate in the premiers' meeting in Edmonton because there have been attempts to "marginalize" First Nations peoples at such meetings. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Leaders from the three national Indigenous organizations will skip the meeting with premiers in Edmonton this week, saying the format does not adhere to the spirit of reconciliation.

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Métis National Council President Clément Chartier told reporters in Toronto that the current format subjugates Indigenous issues, because they cannot participate in meetings as full members of the Council of the Federation with province-like powers to be at the table for all talks.

Bellegarde said there have been "attempts to sideline and segregate the AFN from participation in federal-provincial-territorial intergovernmental tables," and limit and "marginalize" Indigenous involvement.

"We are not just another special interest group. An effective process for intergovernmental participation must reflect our status under the Constitution and international law as peoples and nations with inherent rights, title and jurisdiction," Bellegarde said.

"First Nations will not accept an exclusionary and disrespectful approach."

Bellegarde said there have been efforts by some provincial governments to block Indigenous groups from participating fully in climate change discussions, and health-care talks, for example. He would not specify which provinces were behind the alleged push for exclusion.

Indigenous organizations met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers at a first ministers' meeting in December, where the national climate change strategy was signed by nearly all provinces. But they were not invited to partake fully in the day's activities. 

One leader told CBC News at the time that it felt like Indigenous leaders were put at the "kid's table."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his provincial counterparts, and Indigenous leaders participate in the closing news conference at the First Ministers' Meeting in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

However, all three national leaders were given seats next to the premiers at the closing press conference.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said Monday the Indigenous leaders were sending mixed messages, boycotting a meeting they had insisted be held in the first place. Wall said the premiers set aside an entire day to discuss Indigenous issues and now that meeting will proceed without the national leaders.

There has been meaningful and substantial progress made at past meetings, including addressing the education gap on reserves and the push for an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, he told reporters as he arrived in Edmonton.

"I think it's unfortunate they've decided to boycott what has been a historically significant meeting," he said.

Wall said premiers represent everyone in their province or territory at the Council of the Federation, including Indigenous peoples. 

He said provinces and territories don't demand status on Indigenous leaders' meetings with the federal government.

"It would be like each provincial or territorial premier saying you can't meet with the federal government unless we're all there. What would get done? I think the end has to be results," he said.

Brad Wall 'disappointed' with national Indigenous leaders' boycott of premiers meeting

6 years ago
Duration 1:22
Featured VideoLeaders from the three national Indigenous organizations will skip the meeting with premiers in Edmonton this week, a decision panned by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who is chairing the Council of the Federation meeting, said there has been a long history of working with Indigenous leaders and getting "practical results."

"We are interested in having meetings in the future. It's unfortunate that they weren't able to come today."

Notley said there are many complex, evolving issues that require dialogue. "They require conversation, and you won't get to resolution without having those conversations and we would suggest that the best way to engage in those conversations is to be there for them."

'Full-fledged' governments

Chartier said if Canada is to adhere to a true nation-to-nation approach, national Indigenous organizations should be recognized as "full-fledged governments" with an invitation to all intergovernmental meetings.

"We can't accept the status quo of being excluded, or sidelined from ministerial level meetings, the Council of Federation meetings, or First Ministers' meetings.

There has to be a way forward that is in line with the UNDRIP, in line with our constitution," Obed said, adding Aboriginal and treaty rights guaranteed in Section 35 of the Constitution give them the right to fully participate.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Métis National Council president Clement Chartier in April. Chartier is boycotting a premiers' meeting in Edmonton this week. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Council of the Federation had planned to meet with Indigenous leaders Monday to discuss progress on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations and the federal government's implementation of principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

The premiers met with two other Indigenous organizations, including the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which advocates for off-reserve and non-status Indians.

Notley said the premiers had productive discussions on socio-economic issues and the state of affairs with the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls with the two groups.

"I think we reached agreement on a very shared, common purpose on these issues and I think you'll see some good work coming out of it," she said.

'Right to self-determination'

Chartier said the premiers are free to speak to these groups, but he said the three organizations that are boycotting the meeting are the "legitimate representatives" of nations and peoples.

"We are not ethnic minorities. We are Indigenous peoples with the right to self-determination," Bellegarde said.

The premiers will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss other pressing matters, such as NAFTA and the legalization of marijuana.

With files from the CBC's Kathleen Harris