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Canada Must Alter Constitution for Indigenous Leaders to Play Real Role in First Ministers Conference: AFN
Source: ottawacitizen.com
Source Date: Saturday, December 10, 2016
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government
Country: Canada
Created: Dec 12, 2016

OTTAWA — Canada needs to change the Constitution to ensure indigenous leaders can be in the room when the prime minister sits down to do serious business with the provinces and territories, the head of the Assembly of First Nations said Friday.

“Until that Constitution is fixed, we will continue to be excluded,” said National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

Indigenous leaders were frustrated at being invited to Friday’s meeting with the premiers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, but excluded from the afternoon session on climate change.

They argue that Aboriginal Peoples and their traditional way of life suffer some of the worst effects of climate change, despite having next to nothing to do with the cause, and they should be fully involved in decisions on a solution.

The challenge right now is that the Constitution does not recognize First Nations, Metis and Inuit leaders as representatives from an order of government, said Bellegarde, who acknowledged aboriginal priorities were discussed during the morning meeting.

Bellegarde pointed out that Section 35 of the Constitution has recognized and affirmed the rights of Aboriginal Peoples since 1982, but they have had to go through the courts to get those rights clarified and enforced.

No matter what the table is, we need to meaningfully involved

“It’s still a grey area whether it’s a full box of rights or an empty box of rights,” Bellegarde said.

Bellegarde is calling for a first ministers conference devoted entirely to Section 35, so they can “give true meaningful effect to the right to self-determination” and get serious about building a nation-to-nation relationship.

“And until that’s done, the feds and the provinces can have their meeting,” he said.

Still, Bellegarde said he was pleased to be included at the morning session.

“No matter what the table is, we need to meaningfully involved,” Bellegarde said.

Clement Chartier, president of the Metis National Council, said it was also important to point out that the federal government recognized what they were bringing to the meeting.

“We’re not being dealt with as mere advocacy bodies or organizations, but as representatives of indigenous peoples and nations,” he said.

“We are there. We’re not all the way there, but we have a good step forward to get really meaningful engagement,” he said.

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