Stephen Harper holds 1st meeting with AFN national Chief Perry Bellegarde
Chief says he called on PM to withdraw First Nations education bill
Prime Minister Stephen Harper met for the first time Wednesday with the national chief for the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, in a meeting the two sides said lasted just under an hour.
Bellegarde was elected as the national chief in December after the post was left vacant following the sudden resignation of Shawn Atleo last May. Atleo quit amid accusations from aboriginal leaders that he'd grown too close to the government given his support for a controversial government aboriginal education bill.
Ghislain Picard, the regional chief for Quebec and Labrador, held the post in the interim from July to December.
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The prime minister's chief spokesman, Jason MacDonald, told CBC News the tête-à-tête was "a very positive first meeting."
MacDonald confirmed the two leaders met following question period where they discussed "a wide range of topics."
Bellegarde shared news of his meeting with the prime minister in a letter sent to the AFN executive on Wednesday evening and obtained by CBC News.
"Earlier today, I met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper," Bellegarde said.
The newly elected national chief said he raised the need for an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and "pressed" Harper to withdraw the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.
"The prime minister stated that Bill C-33 will not move forward," Bellegarde said in his letter to national chiefs.
"We agreed that there is much work to do to achieve the changes needed to substantively improve First Nations well-being."
Bellegarde said he also indicated to the prime minister the need for meetings between cabinet ministers and members of the AFN executive on such issues as "comprehensive claims, treaty implementation and land rights."
The newly elected national chief said he laid out their priorities just as he did in recent meetings with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
Mulcair said last Thursday he had "a great dinner meeting" with Bellegarde. In a post on Twitter, he is seen posing with the national chief and a handful of his NDP MPs.
Trudeau also posted a picture on Twitter Monday, just as Parliament reopened after a six-week break, saying he and Bellegarde discussed the need for a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, among other First Nations concerns.