Organization backed by ex-PMs hopes to build “new partnership” with Indigenous peoples



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(From left to right. Former NWT premier Stephen Kakfwi, ormer Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Mary Simon, Metis writer and teacher Chelsea Vowel, former prime minister Joe Clark, former AFN national chief Ovide Mercredi and former prime minister Paul Martin at the press conference to unveil the Canadians For a New Partnership organization. APTN/Photo)

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OTTAWA–The former Dene premier of the Northwest Territories and two former prime ministers are leading the creation of a new organization aiming to foster a “new partnership” with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

Called the Canadians for a New Partnership (CFNP), the organization was unveiled Thursday during a press conference in Ottawa. The press conference included former NWT premier Stephen Kakfwi, former prime ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark, former Assembly of First Nations national chief Ovide Mercredi, former Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Mary Simon and Metis writer and teacher Chelsea Vowel.

Kakfwi said the seeds for the organization were planted by his children during the height of the Idle No More movement which burst onto the national consciousness through its round dance flash mobs in late 2012 and early 2013.

“There are times when their sense of hope diminishes,” said Kakfwi. “A better Canada is within reach.”

He said he also hoped the organization would continue the worth of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission delving into the dark history of residential schools. The commission wraps up its work next summer with a final report.

The CFNP aims to use speaking tours and social media to spread the message to the general public that a new relationship needs to develop with the country’s Indigenous peoples for Canada to thrive. The organization counts prominent Canadians among its ranks who will help push the message out, including former auditor general Sheila Fraser and former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci.

The organization is also pushing for signatures on a declaration committing its endorsers to build a “new partnership” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

“For over four centuries we have shared the same land, water and air that form one of the most bountiful and prosperous countries in the world. In this way Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are bound together in an inseparable bond. But not all have shared equally in the same rights, freedoms and benefits that should flow from inhabiting this magnificent land,” states the declaration. “For too long our relations have been marked by misunderstanding, betrayal and neglect. While the sins of the past can never be erased, by acknowledging Aboriginal and treaty rights and forging a new partnership we can stop the cycle of negativity that past wrongs have wrought on the generations that followed.”

Clark said during the press conference that Kakfwi discussed the project with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.

The minister’s office, however, did not mention the organization or acknowledge its existence in any way when asked to comment on the CFNP. The Valcourt’s office statement included a list of government accomplishments on the First Nations file.

Martin said the CFNP aims to find “common-ground” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.

“Too often we have made the wrong choices or failed to deliver on the right ones,” said Martin. “We hold the same hopes and dreams for our children and grandchildren. I know because I see it every day in the classroom. If the seeds of agreement in this common ground are ever going to take root and grow, we will have to restore trust and build a foundation of goodwill between all Indigenous people and Canadians.”

Clark said the group is not looking for conflict with Ottawa, but is instead for support from legislators from all political parties.

“No one wants our first peoples to be treated as second-class Canadians,” said Clark.

Vowel said she believed the organization’s agenda was not to find solutions to problems, but rather to foster dialogue between peoples.

“I am sitting here with people who I don’t agree with,” said Vowel. “To me this declaration is a chance to clear your mind every day.”

Mercredi said he’s been striving to “change this country for a long time.” He said he hoped the new organization would help pave the way to a better future.

“Hopefully, someday, I’ll be an advocate for Canada,” said Mercredi. “But right now, I am advocate for my people.”

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