This morning in Ottawa a summit began which could have long-ranging and dramatic outcomes to Canada. A gathering of First Nations’ leaders and officials from the Government of Canada and Crown began today. The opening remarks by Governor-General David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and National Chief Shawn Atleo were encouraging. Perhaps I am overburdened by low expectations. Aboriginal-Federal relations have been so dismal any progress at all offers hope.
The conference was the work of Mr. Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations. Following the revelation of the Attawapiskat crisis he continually called on Mr. Harper for a meaningful meeting to discuss the way forward for First Nations in Canada. Both Mr. Harper and Mr. Atleo expressed a desire to reform the Indian Act, which governs First Nations peoples in Canada. The Prime Minister stated he has no intent to repeal the Indian Act.
Stephen Harper and the Conservative Government may not be the ideal negotiating partner, but he is the head of government, and has the authority to make these changes. Any changes at all to Aboriginal policy will be controversial. As a Conservative Harper is happy to give Aboriginal-Canadians greater opportunity and end the crippling regulations on reserves. Whether he will be willing to commit the Federal government to helping to eliminate poverty on reserves and improving the standard of living... we shall see.
I am cautiously optimistic about the Crown-First Nations Gathering because I think, like many Canadians, I want to see these historic problems addressed, and the embarrassing conditions of some Aboriginal communities end. As citizens we can push our leaders to make the changes needed, and not allowing the dialogue to break down.