By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Prime Minister Stephen Harper believes the Idle No More movement has created a negative public reaction, according to detailed notes from his Jan. 11 meeting with First Nations leaders obtained by APTN National News.
The nine-page, “confidential” document is based on notes taken by Assembly of First Nations staff during the meeting between Harper and 17 First Nations leaders. The draft “internal summary” outlines the positions and interventions from each person who spoke during the meeting and lays out the prime minister’s own views, point-by-point, on key demands from First Nations leaders.
AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo’s decision to attend the meeting proved to be controversial and chiefs from Ontario, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories boycotted the gathering held at the Prime Minister’s Office in Langevin Block, across from Parliament Hill.
The day of the meeting also saw widespread Idle No More protests in Ottawa and across the country. Atleo told APTN National News after the meeting that he could hear the protests out on the street through the walls of the room.
Harper also discussed Idle No More, according to the notes, and said the general Canadian public was not supporting it.
“Idle No More presents two realities. The first is the pressure felt by first Nations leaders. The second is the negative public reaction that this invokes,” according to notes on Harper’s statements during the meeting.
The notes, however, also reveal that Harper is willing to meet with First Nations leaders as a whole as long as the proper groundwork is in place before such an event.
“Reflected that in own experience, here and internationally, large scale meetings are more successful following work being undertaken and some results in place, rather than a mechanism to achieve these and he would consider that in the future,” said notes on Harper’s response to Atleo’s request that he “commit to a meeting with all First Nations.”
The notes also show that despite committing to “high level dialogue” on treaty implementation, one of the cabinet ministers selected to participate in the meeting, Treasury Board President Tony Clement, expressed concern over the level of focus First Nations chiefs were putting on the need for treaty discussions.
“Admittedly not understanding entire relationship with treaty or why that discussion needs to occur before economic development,” according to notes on Clement’s interventions. “Hearing the commentary and connection of treaty, Indian Act and legislation. Hard to unravel these. Concern that economic development stops until treaty discussions are resolved. No further ahead.”
Clement also said the chiefs were “at risk Canadians,” according to the notes.
“Meeting in good faith with a group of ‘at risk Canadians who deserve better,’” Clement is quoted as saying, according to the notes.
The notes also reveals a level of testiness on the part of some chiefs, including Grand Council of the Crees Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, who felt the meeting wasn’t getting anywhere.
“Concerned conversation not focused…Quebec chiefs sent him to this meeting to present a process, not to listen to statements or rhetoric,” according to notes on Coon Come. “Must build a bridge through this impasse
The notes also revealed a wide gap between Atleo and Harper over the Department of Justice’s approach to title and rights cases.
“Extremely political in nature. DOJ managers 100s of title and rights cases a year. Takes positions that we do not exist as a peoples. Advice is not in the interest of First Nations,” according to notes on Atleo.
Later in the meeting, Harper responded.
“Understands the frustration with DOJ as usually in court. Underscore that DOJ does not take the position that treaty rights are of no force and effect. On the contrary, DOJ reinforces that treaty rights are matters of constitutional law that supersedes ministerial authority,” according to notes on Harper.
Harper also appears to pour cold water on the push by First Nations to obtain resource revenue sharing by stating it’s not just about getting a cut of the money, but a much more complicated process.
“The question is not just benefiting from resource development, but full participating in all aspects of development and spin-off benefits. Need to not ‘just look for a cheque from somebody,’” according to notes on Harper. “Federal government doesn’t get resource revenues directly. Need to work with provinces on this and other areas (such as skills development, infrastructure).”
Despite hearing several statements from chiefs around the table on Bills C-38 and C-45 and their perceived lack of consultation on legislation amending the Indian Act and impacting Aboriginal and treaty rights, Harper appears to have barely addressed those concerns. Harper also makes no apologies for the approach the government is taking on changing the Indian Act.
“Regarding the new environmental assessment process, the government is seeking to streamline approvals but not to diminish nor absolve the duty to consult on development in any way,” notes on Harper state. “We all recognize the flaws of the Indian Act. The method the government has been trying to pursue is to give individual bands the ability to have flexibility and to adopt options of their own choosing….have observed an overall lack of consensus in this area. Why legislation is optional.”
The prime minister, however, told the gathered chiefs the relation between First Nations and Canada was essential for the country.
“Our relationship lies at the heart of this country,” according to notes on Harper. “River analogy: moving down the river together-respectfully paddling in the same direction but must watch we do not get caught in the eddies.”