(Ottawa, ON) – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde met on July 15, 2015 with premiers in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador and delivered the message that all governments – including the federal government – must work together collaboratively with Indigenous peoples on real action and outcomes that will close the gap in quality of life between First Nations and the rest of Canada.
“Everything we talked about today is about closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “The operative words are action and implementation. There are some positive developments underway in the provinces and territories but the federal government is the key player missing from the table. If we’re going to make Canada the best country it can be then the federal government needs to be with us every step of the way. All of us here today want the federal government to honour its responsibilities and join us at these tables.”
National Chief Bellegarde’s comments follow the July 15 meeting with Premiers in advance of the Council of Federation meeting taking place in Newfoundland.
During the meeting, National Chief Bellegarde recognized the efforts by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Alberta, calling this an example of positive and constructive action that premiers can take to advance reconciliation and closing the gap. The National Chief pointed out that all Canadian laws must be consistent with the Declaration.
National Chief Bellegarde also urged Premiers to ensure First Nations are fully included in the development of any National Energy Strategy, stating that regulatory approvals for major projects will only truly be reformed and improved if First Nations are fully involved.
“Premiers are demonstrating leadership in a number of areas and we need to see that continue,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “We need concrete commitments and investments now from all levels of government to address the inequalities in essential programs and services for Indigenous peoples. We can’t miss any more opportunities to close the gap in living conditions between First Nations and Canadians. When First Nations people are able to reach their true potential, that’s good for all of us.”
National Chief Bellegarde highlighted priority areas for action, including energy and the economy, education, revitalization of Indigenous languages, ending violence against Indigenous women and girls and the overrepresentation of First Nations children in the child welfare system.
A key area of discussion was follow-up to the February 2015 National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Manitoba has agreed to host the second Roundtable in 2016 and Ontario will provide coordination for tracking and furthering outcomes and commitments. Alberta will lead development of a socio-economic action plan for Aboriginal women.
The premiers also received a presentation from Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Commissioners Dr. Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild on the TRC’s findings and Calls to Action. The premiers agreed to examine how to implement the Calls to Action and to provide a collective response to the TRC.
National Chief Bellegarde shared the paper “Closing the Gap: Seeking Reconciliation, Advancing First Nations Well Being and Human Rights”, available at: http://www.afn.ca/uploads/files/closing_the_gap_-_seeking_reconciliation_advancing_first_nations_well_being_and_human_rights_fe.pdf