Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said it was “unfortunate” three leaders of Indigenous groups boycotted a meeting at the Council of the Federation held in Edmonton this week. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

‘Unfortunate’ some Indigenous leaders boycotted CoF meeting, Silver says

First Nations, Metis and Inuit groups want seat a premiers’ meeting

It’s “unfortunate” that three leaders for national Indigenous organizations boycotted a meeting with the Council of the Federation (CoF) in Edmonton this week, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said July 18, but added that the move was “advantageous” for the two leaders who did attend.

The council is made up of Canada’s 13 provincial and territorial premiers who gather at least twice a year to discuss issues like health care, education and internal trade. Time is also set aside to meet with leaders of several national Indigenous organizations.

This year’s summer meeting was held in Edmonton from July 17-19, where Silver, the chair for 2016-2017, handed over the reigns to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. The premiers were supposed to meet with five Indigenous leaders July 17, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Métis National Council (MNC) President Clément Chartier and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) President Natan Obed did not to attend, instead holding their own press conference in Toronto where they accused some CoF members of making “regressive moves” to “minimize and marginalize participation of Indigenous leaders,” although they did not specify who those members were.

“We are not just another special interest group,” Bellegarde said in a statement. “An effective process for intergovernmental participation must reflect our status under the Constitution and international law as peoples and nations with inherent rights, title and jurisdiction. First Nations will not accept an exclusionary and disrespectful approach.”

Chartier and Obed agreed.

“(The premiers’) position that they will determine who will be at the table and what will be discussed precludes our meaningful participation and relegates potential meetings to little more than photo-ops,” Chartier said in a statement. “That time has passed.”

In his statement, Obed said “provinces and territories must embrace participation of national Indigenous representational organizations in national intergovernmental processes, rather than wishing to limit or exclude us.”

“Excluding Inuit from meaningful intergovernmental discussions runs counter to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Canadian constitution, and practically will result in continued growth of the gap in health and social and economic outcomes between Inuit and other Canadians,” he said.

All three leaders said they’d communicated with the CoF prior to the summer meeting, expressing their concerns and requesting a formal half-day meeting with the premiers.

Speaking on the phone from Edmonton Tuesday, though, Silver said he didn’t think there was any “lack of willingness” from the premiers to talk to Indigenous leaders but that “every conduit of communication should be happening.”

“This group of premiers, right across the board, are willing to engage and willing to do as much as we possibly can to do so,” he said. “But with that said, we have to have an opportunity to speak with premiers, we have to have an opportunity to speak with Indigenous leaders and with the federal government, and we’re trying to make sure we have those opportunities.”

The upcoming Federal, Provincial, Territorial and Indigenous Forum would be an opportunity for everyone to meet and speak, Silver said, adding that the CoF had “fantastic conversations” with the two Indigenous leaders — Congress of Aboriginal Peoples National Chief Robert Bertrand and Native Women’s Association of Canada president Francyne Joe — who attended Monday’s meeting.

“It was an absolute honour for us,” Silver said. “President Joe was insightful and inspiring.… She used that opportunity, because there was more oxygen in the room, to talk about Indigenous women’s issues and I tell you, it was excellent conversations by all the provinces and territories and all the premiers…. We now have a better relationship with those two organizations.”

Following the meeting with Bertrand and Joe, the premiers met to talk about topics including child welfare, housing, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other forms of international trade, Silver said. Topics to be covered Wednesday included the Nutrition North Canada subsidy program, cannabis legalization and the opioid crisis.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com