By Keith Doucette
THE CANADIAN PRESS
BOUCTOUCHE, N.B.- Three of the country’s largest Indigenous organizations are bowing out of a meeting with Canada’s premiers in New Brunswick, making it the second year in a row the groups are not attending talks ahead of a summer gathering of provincial leaders.
The heads of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Metis National Council have declined an invitation from the Council of the Federation to meet with premiers Wednesday.
The half-day meeting at Pays de la Sagouine in Bouctouche is to focus on economic partnerships and Indigenous children in care, said New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant.
“I’m sure other informal things will be brought up and we look forward to getting their suggestions, ideas and even concerns about what role we can play as premiers to better the lives of Indigenous people and ensure we grow the economy in an inclusive way,” Gallant said.
Gallant said it was unfortunate that several of the groups turned down the invitation to meet.
“It’s a chance to really have a very sincere dialogue on how we can work together,” he said. “So, I think it’s an opportunity missed if they don’t come to the meetings.”
But Clement Chartier, president of the Metis National Council, said the three Indigenous organizations are the national representatives of Indigenous Peoples and “should be respected as such.”
He said they should be included in official government meetings, not put on the sidelines like a special-interest group.
“We are a government and Indigenous Peoples by virtue of Section 35 have the inherent right of self-government,” Chartier said. “We are one of the three orders of government in this country _ the provincial governments, the federal government and the Indigenous governments.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he would not attend the meeting because of ongoing concerns about minimizing the participation of First Nations in the Council of the Federation meetings, pre-meetings and other intergovernmental forums.
The Indigenous meeting takes place before premiers travel to the seaside town of St. Andrews, N.B., for discussions on a range of issues Thursday and Friday.
Although a regional chief had planned to attend, Bellegarde said in a statement that changed “when we learned First Nations leadership identified on the draft agenda had not been contacted and had not received invitations to date or (been) treated with appropriate protocol and respect.”
“The AFN will continue to push for an effective, respectful process for intergovernmental relations that reflects government-to-government relationships, First Nations rights, title and jurisdiction,” Bellegarde said.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman said Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed will be attending the Inuit Circumpolar Council General Assembly in Alaska.
“This is a meeting that happens only once every four years with representatives from the four circumpolar Inuit regions (Canada, Greenland, US and Russia),” Erin Brandt Filliter said in an email.
“All other elected Inuit leaders who might be able to come to (New Brunswick) on behalf of the ITK president will also be in Alaska.”
She later clarified that the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is advocating for closer collaboration in working with the Council of the Federation.
Brandt Filliter said this would include determining which Indigenous priorities should be included on the agenda, and acknowledging the important roles Indigenous representative organizations play alongside provincial and territorial governments.
Meanwhile, two groups, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, confirmed they will attend the meeting.
A spokeswoman for New Brunswick’s Executive Council Office could not confirm how many groups would be in attendance.
“We are still receiving RSVP’s and confirmation on attendance for the meeting of National Indigenous Organization leaders,” Tara Chislett said in an email Monday.
Last summer, the leaders of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Metis National Council backed out of a meeting with Canada’s premiers.
They said they were seeking “full and meaningful inclusion” in the larger annual gathering of provincial and territorial leaders.
– With files by Brett Bundale in Halifax