Prime Minister Stephen Harper is going to meet with First Nation leaders from across the country next week.
It’s been about 30 years since the last meeting like this, said Eric Morris, the Yukon’s regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations.
The Crown-First Nations Gathering is scheduled for Jan. 24. However the agenda has already created some controversy.
The First Nations expected Harper would hold individual meetings with the different regions, or at least allow the regions to address the whole delegation.
But with Harper’s time already cut shorter than expected so he can fly overseas for an economic meeting later that evening, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen, said Morris.
So the assembly is improvising a little bit, Morris explained.
It has asked all of the chiefs and representatives to meet on Jan. 23 and has invited Harper to join them that evening.
“I think this is a real opportunity for Canadians,” said Morris, noting the main goal is to improve the relationship between the federal government and First Nations.
Morris and Council of Yukon First Nations’ Grand Chief Ruth Massie will fly to Ottawa meetings on Saturday.
Massie said she hopes the meeting will provide a chance to hold the federal government accountable for the commitments it made when it signed the 11 Yukon land-claim, self-government and final agreements.
“They’re not negotiating in good faith,” Massie said of the federal government in regard to financial transfer schemes established in the agreements.
“The prime minister needs to know the importance of collaborating with self-governing First Nations and land-claim agreement holders. They made a commitment to the implementation of modern-day treaties and they need to make adequate resources available.
“We negotiated for 35 years for that recognition and when are they going to respect that? And that’s what it comes down to. They always talk about their commitments, their collaborations, their recognition and their respect. Well, walk the talk.”
There is also the issue of federally-imposed legislation that conflicts with – or fully breaches – Yukon agreements, added Massie.
She pointed to the fiscal harmonization policy in the works to re-formulate federal funding.
The problem is that each constitutionally-entrenched agreement in the Yukon said federal transfers must be negotiated and not be simply based on a formula.
On Jan. 23 chiefs and representatives will meet regionally before meeting as a group with Harper the next day.
While Massie may not get to meet with Harper, she has already received requests for a meeting with Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq.
Representatives of aboriginal groups across the three territories have entered into an agreement to establish a “northern table” when it comes to aboriginal health, explained Massie.
While some of their discussions may overlap those that recently took place among Canadian premiers on health funding, this northern table is concerned specifically with federal funding for aboriginal health initiatives.
This is a big concern for the Yukon, Massie said.
Most federal legislation for aboriginal health is specified with “on reserve” detail.
Because there are no reserves in the territory, Yukon First Nations are excluded from most of it, she said.
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