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Harper planning on “ducking out” early during meeting with FN leaders: Chiefs



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(Prime Minister Stephen Harper and AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo inside the prime minister’s Parliament Hill office on Dec. 1 APTN/Photo)

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to leave by lunch time during next Tuesday’s meeting with hundreds of First Nations leaders in Ottawa, according to chiefs in Ontario and British Columbia.

In interviews with APTN National News, chiefs said they have been notified that Harper may not be attending any of the post-ceremony meetings where First Nations leaders are expected to voice their concerns and priorities for changing the often desperate state of Indigenous communities across the country.

Chiefs, however, said details of the gathering seem to be changing almost every hour.

Harper will be present for the opening ceremonies and speeches, one of which he will deliver.

Chiefs have been told that the prime minister may have to leave early to either prepare or take a flight to the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, which begins Wednesday.

Harper called next Tuesday’s gathering with First Nations leaders “historic” when he announced the event in December as political fallout from the Attawapiskat housing crisis was reaching its climax.

“It is something I hope to be historic,” said Harper, who announced the event in his Parliament Hill office with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo sitting next to him.

Several cabinet ministers, including Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, are expected to attend. But the chance to have Harper hear directly from and respond to First Nations chiefs was the centerpiece of the event.

The prime minister was personally urged Monday in a telephone conversation with Atleo to “maximize his time” with First Nations leaders on Tuesday, APTN National News has learned.

Some chiefs had also suggested the prime minister meet with some First Nations leaders separately Monday evening to hear their issues, but the Prime Minister’s Office has been reluctant to agree fearing it could turn into a “media circus” once word got out, according to a source with knowledge of the file.

The PMO will only say that Harper’s itinerary would be set 24 hours in advance of the meeting.

“The Prime Minister looks forward to attending next week’s gathering and addressing and engaging with Chiefs from First Nations across Canada,” said a statement from the PMO. “The government, which will also be represented at the gathering by several ministers and high-level officials, welcomes the opportunity for a constructive dialogue with First Nations and to identify the ways we can make progress on key issues like economic development, education, and accountability.”

Harper’s expected departure midway through the Crown-First Nations gathering has left some First Nation leaders wondering about the point of the meeting.

“We are deeply disappointed to hear the prime minister will be ducking out the back door within a couple of hours after this session begins,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “I think in many ways it reflects his dismissive attitude towards the Aboriginal people in this country.”

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee said he hoped that Harper would find the time to hear directly from chiefs either on Tuesday, or at an eventual meeting between First Nations leaders, premiers and the prime minister.

Madahbee said chiefs were hoping that Harper and his cabinet ministers would agree to a time-table that would see concrete changes within six to 18 months.

“We need to get some traction on issues,” said Madahbee, whose organization represents 39 Ontario First Nations. “There is a young generation of people who are getting more and more impatient, that want to get results and actions. We have been telling the government to deal with the leadership or deal with what could get out of hand.”

Madahbee said the preparation for the meeting has been “11th hour” and “on the fly” with uncertainty even surrounding how many actual chiefs will be in the room at Ottawa’s old city hall building for the actual meetings, or in an overflow room at the Chateau Laurier blocks away.

“It is kind of unfortunate the planning process with this government,” he said.

About 400 chiefs are expected to descend on Ottawa Tuesday and the AFN says they hope to get at least 200 chiefs in for the actual meetings, while the rest would watch it on video screens.

There has also been disappointment among some chiefs over Harper’s plan to deliver a speech focused on his government’s commitments and plans, said Phillip.

Phillip said many chiefs were hoping Harper would stay and listen to their concerns, and then respond to what he heard at the end of the gathering.

“The idea was that at the end of the day, there would be an opportunity to reflect on what was said and what his government heard. That would be the high point of this historic dialogue with the prime minister,” said Phillip. “Now we find out that it is not going to happen.”

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon said he was going to take a wait and see approach to the meeting, but he hoped chiefs would find a way to stick together to force the government’s hand with Harper present or not.

“We know it is going to be a challenge to deal with the Harper government. We are not sure if the chiefs will stick together,” he said. “We will probably see cracks again within the ranks of the chiefs…We are hoping the chiefs are going to see the urgency of unifying under one position and stick to that, regardless of what happens.”

jbarrera@aptn.ca

@JorgeBarrera

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  • Dayton Funk

    Hey Chiefs why are you asking the govt. for solution’s?u00a0 You obviously know there are problems so solve them.

  • http://twitter.com/jwlhansen Wendy Hansen

    Make modifications to the agenda and have the hot topics on the table for discussion prior to the afternoon.n

  • http://twitter.com/gardypie Darwin Gardypie

    It seems like a Photo Opp, with no real discussion or solutions, the government are just trying to make nice for Canadians but have no intention of reasoning with First Nations leaders, I say boycott the event unless Harper is willing to listen and interact with the Chiefs.

  • http://twitter.com/CanadaToo C2

    The meeting is give Harper sound bites and friendly images to shower upon us stupid citizens to make us think everyone is on good terms.

  • Anonymous

    So much for historical. u00a0When Harper actually stays to talk “with,” as opposed to “to” people, and isn’t just using this for a photo-op, then it might actually be historic. u00a0From where I sit, right now this just appears to be nothing more than just one more tightly controlled media circus of his own creation.

  • Anonymous

    We dont’ know what Harper’s agenda, so we should stress that at this, and should our Dear PM sees importance else where, then I think these Chiefs should attend in mind and heart in connecting with the government; if not, develop a plan “B” to continue to move forward with all the voices in the room, if it needs to extended to this, then so shall it be.u00a0 I believe it won’t look too good on his government to once again minimize First Nations issues.u00a0 We are strong people and lets not let this one person dictate where we want to go, I believe we have more support in the western world then we think; Who knows, I still vision the best leader in the Prime Minister seat would be a Anishnabek person.u00a0 Seamaa to our leaders in Ottawa.u00a0 Teresa K – Pic Mobert First Nation

  • Anonymous

    We dont’ know what Harper’s agenda, so we should stress that at this, and should our Dear PM sees importance else where, then I think these Chiefs should attend in mind and heart in connecting with the government; if not, develop a plan “B” to continue to move forward with all the voices in the room, if it needs to extended to this, then so shall it be.u00a0 I believe it won’t look too good on his government to once again minimize First Nations issues.u00a0 We are strong people and lets not let this one person dictate where we want to go, I believe we have more support in the western world then we think; Who knows, I still vision the best leader in the Prime Minister seat would be a Anishnabek person.u00a0 Seamaa to our leaders in Ottawa.u00a0 Teresa K – Pic Mobert First Nation

  • Ian Berg

    43 years ago the DIAND minister was Jean Chretien and he was trying to reform Canadian policies towards First Nations. He also got nowhere too.

  • http://profiles.google.com/oddsoxster Fred Jensen

    What possible use would it be for him to sit in meetings all day? He has other commitments and there will be several government reps on hand. What’s the big deal?

  • http://www.texelc.blogspot.com Arnie Jack

    nnnnnMe7e WeytknnnnIn one sense, in many media reports for the last month, many DIA chiefs arenalluding to the fact that they are going to Ottawa with a unified agenda?u00a0nIsn’t that why they are in Ottawa the day before?u00a0 To tweak a unifiednagenda.u00a0 Listening to Stewart it sounds like a free for all with eachnprovinces’u00a0 ‘update’ taking up the morning.u00a0 What a waste of time andnDIA Money… AGAIN.u00a0 How much does it cost to fly 400 chiefs and thiernlawyers with rooms and per diems plus thier regular wages for 2 days?nu00a0$500,000? $1,000,000? 5 mil? nnnnThe Union of BC DIA chiefs and other prominent indigenous groups boycotted thenmissing womens enquiry for a lack of funding. They should boycott this meetingnfor lack of substance, integrity, brains, foresightedness etc…nnnnFrom the simple rez life, it looks like another photo op like the KelownanAccord, except without the accord.nnnnHaving said that, if they do go ahead… Maybe it is time for these DIA chiefsnto start using more cost effective meeting venues such as videoconferencingnwith Skype. Sadly, as way too many young indigenous men can attest to, its donenfrom jail everyday. How many chiefs along with Harper use Skype, alot of linenministries use videoconferencing.u00a0 Why not big screens in each provincesnmajor city sporting arena. u00a0Come on Chiefs let us in.u00a0 How about anfacebook/skype conference.u00a0 hmmmm….u00a0 A crown – Indian Act Chiefsnfacebook/skype conference… Now that would be original, historic and costneffective!!!!!!!nnnnnKukstemcnnnnnArnie Jack nnnnWilliams Lake Indian Band OppositionnnTsilqotin / Secwepemcnnnnnnnnnn

  • http://twitter.com/bluegypsy58 Renee Abram

    Only thing “historical” is the continued lack of respect and blatant disregard for our Aboriginal Peoples

  • http://twitter.com/Blackwell_Rez Leesa

    Could it be because Robert Redford wants to talk to him too? Just sayin…

    • Anonymous

      Approved