By Kelly Geraldine Malone
THE CANADIAN PRESS
WINNIPEG-A Saskatchewan chief says a video posted online showing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau telling First Nations leaders he is upset about how time was managed in a recent meeting is unfortunate.
Chief Bobby Cameron, with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said a closed-door meeting with the prime minister last week was productive, but the frustration depicted in the video is real.
“We require more time to discuss the many crises facing our First Nations communities,’’ Cameron said in a statement on Monday.
Trudeau met with the Saskatchewan chiefs on Sept. 12 when he was in Saskatoon for the Liberal Party’s annual caucus retreat.
In the video, which is about three-and-a-half minutes long, Trudeau said the plan was to meet with about eight people for an hour-long discussion. But around 30 people showed up and there wasn’t enough time for everyone to speak.
Some unidentified people in the video say they drove hours to take part in the meeting but, 45 minutes in, only a handful of people had addressed the prime minister.
“I am really, really upset about this,’’ Trudeau said in the video.
“It wasn’t for me to interrupt the previous speakers. Bobby (Cameron), there shouldn’t have been every single person speaking for eight minutes in this meeting. That is not the spirit of reconciliation, of the nation-to-nation relationship we are supposed to have.’’
Cameron said the video was not leaked by the FSIN executive or staff.
The FSIN, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said time will be set aside in the future for the First Nations leaders who were unable to voice their concerns.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that Trudeau was unable to get through all the issues put forward in the meeting, but looks forward to connecting with First Nations leaders in Saskatchewan in the future.
After the video surfaced online Sunday, some criticized Trudeau.
Russ Diabo, a policy analyst who recently ran for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, tweeted that it showed “Trudeau’s arrogance and petulance towards First Nation chiefs.’’
But national Chief Perry Bellegarde said he watched the video and was not “overly concerned’’ about Trudeau’s tone.
“I’ve chaired meetings where you have chiefs and it is difficult to turn a chief off when they’re on a roll because they don’t always have access to a leader like the prime minister of Canada,’’ he said.
Bellegarde said chiefs often want ample time to discuss issues including new schools, clean water and sewage.
“To me, it was just an example of frustration because any time you have a meeting with the prime minister, there’s got to be a very structured agenda,’’ he said.
“Prime Minister Trudeau has stressed that ‘no relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples,’ but he couldn’t give our chiefs’ the respect of adequate time to address their concerns,” Cameron said through a prepared statement.
Cameron said the one hour he spent with chiefs was not enough to hear legitimate concerns from Indigenous communities across the province. The Prime Minister’s staffers allowed 10 chiefs to speak to Trudeau for two to three minutes each.
“How can we get real answers for all of the issues that are plaguing our people in two to three minutes?” Cameron asked. “One hour is not enough time to give the respect our chiefs deserve.”
The Federation’s chief has extended an invitation to Trudeau to attend the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nation’s annual assembly next month, to allow chiefs to properly express their concerns to the Prime Minister.
Cameron noted he was pleased some communities, like the Lac La Ronge Indian Band were given the opportunity to make presentations on behalf of their communities, however, more First Nations deserve a chance to address Trudeau with their concerns.
“It’s about respect and honouring his word,” Cameron said.
The meeting between the Prime Minister and chiefs also covered Inherent and Treaty rights like education, housing, the medicine chest clause and NAFTA, among other topics.