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Saskatchewan chiefs divided on meeting with Harper.


Both Chiefs helped to lay the ground work but when it came time to meet with the Prime Minister, only one went.

"I've always dared to be different from other Chiefs," said Chief Marcel Head, of Shoal Lake Cree Nation. "I saw this as an opportunity ... and we had a mandate from the people to seek ways to get the government to engage in a dialogue to start implementing treaties."

Head was among 20 or so Saskatchewan Chiefs to take part in the Jan. 11 meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, despite the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nation's decision to boycott the meeting.

FSIN head Perry Bellegarde, who is also a Regional Chief with the Assembly of First Nations, led the meetings that resulted in the eight points presented to Harper, but didn't attend the four-hour long meeting.

"I didn't go in out of respect for my Saskatchewan caucus," said Bellegarde.

Head says there was a fair amount of confusion from when he arrived in Ottawa, three days prior to the meeting, to when a delegation of Chiefs met with Harper.

That confusion, he said, came following a number of appearances from fasting Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who urged the Chiefs to boycott the meeting with Harper because Governor General David Johnston would not be attending.

"All along we had an agreement to send at least a delegation," said Head. "Thursday night was a 180 degree turn. Everybody started to speak out in support of Chief Spence. It turned from sending a delegation to meet the Prime Minister to boycotting the meeting."

But prior to arriving in Ottawa, Head was part of a160-Chief conference call with AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, in which Head says Atleo was given a strong mandate to set up the meeting with Harper.

"Nobody spoke against it," said Head.

In the end, Chiefs from Saskatchewan, Ontario and Manitoba as a collective, decided not to attend.

"I see boycotting a meeting like this not doing any service to the people who elected you," said Head, who was in contact with his council back home to ensure that with the new developments, his community still wanted him to meet with Harper.

Head is optimistic that something will come from the meeting and holds that it had a different atmosphere than the Crown-First Nations gathering which took place January 2012.

"Overall, I think (the meeting) went well," said Head. "I think the significant part of the meeting was to have continuous dialogue, not just the one deal, the one meeting."

Unlike the Crown-First Nations gathering where there was no follow-up of issues raised, Head says this time there was "agreement (there) has to be some fundamental changes (made) to remedy the relationship between the government and the First Nations across the country."

Head, who had a chance to address Harper, says he was approached by a number of boycotting - Saskatchewan Chiefs and asked about the meeting.

"They said they would have loved to have met with the Prime Minister, but they were thankful someone did go out and meet with them from our province," he said. He added he did not receive any pressure after from having gone against the Saskatchewan caucus.

In the evening of Jan. 11, Head was joined by boycotting Chiefs, including Bellegarde and Spence, in a meeting with Johnston at Rideau Hall.

"He's the queen's representative here in Canada and our relationship as treaty people is with the queen ... so our relationship with the sovereign is very important," said Bellegarde.

Head says he was disappointed with the ceremonial meeting with Johnson, in which they received no commitment.

But not everything is riding on meetings with the Prime Minister or Governor General.

Bellegarde says the FSIN is considering joining two Alberta First Nations, who have begun legal action against the federal government's omnibus bills C-38 and C-45.

Bellegarde also holds up the work undertaken by the Idle No More movement.

"It's a grassroots movement and it's a spiritual reawakening of our people," he said.

The Idle No More rallies and demonstrations have gotten the eye of the Saskatchewan government. Last month, prior to announcing joint federal and provincial funding for a First Nations training program, Premier Brad Wall alluded to a change in government funding to the FSIN.

In a written response Bellegarde chided Wall for "negotiating through the media." Bellegarde also said that First Nation's rights were a "constitutional certainty (which includes) our involvement in any decision-making that affects our territories and our people."


Sage Contributing Editor
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Author:Narine, Shari
Publication:Saskatechewan Sage
Geographic Code:1CSAS
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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