Spence won’t attend First Nations meeting with Harper because Governor General won’t be there
The meeting on Friday between First Nations leaders and Prime Minister Harper has consumed headlines for weeks, but experts – and Canadians themselves – are doubtful that progress will be made.
Survey results released Wednesday from Angus Reid Public Opinion show 55 per cent of those surveyed think this week’s meeting will be “unsuccessful,” versus 27 per cent who think it will be “successful” and 18 per cent who are unsure.
“I think the problem lies in the fact that we’ve done this before,” said Angus Reid vice-president Mario Canseco. “We had all of the discussions about the Kelowna accord and things were supposed to be different. We were going to have a new relationship with the aboriginal communities, and then nothing came out of it.”
The Kelowna accord was an agreement reached between the federal and provincial governments with aboriginal groups in 2005, which was never implemented after Liberal prime minister Paul Martin was defeated by the Harper Conservatives in the 2006 election.
The lack of optimism over Friday’s meeting is shared by Robert Lovelace, former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation in eastern Ontario and currently a professor of aboriginal studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
“Most (native) people on the street, most people at the grassroots . . . they don’t expect anything to come of this meeting,” he said in an interview with Global News.
The survey comes after about a month of protests from the Idle No More movement, the demonstration of Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence in Ottawa of not eating solid food and a damning independent audit of financial management in her northern Ontario reserve.
Steve Courtoreille, chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in northern Alberta, who was in Ottawa this week to file a court challenge against recent changes to federal environmental laws, told journalists on Tuesday that “nothing will happen” at Friday’s meeting.
Lovelace went as far as to say the lack of substance from the meeting could set the stage for the dissolution of the Assembly of First Nations.
“In private, (Harper) is going to read the riot act to (Assembly of First Nations National Chief) Shawn Atleo and a few chiefs who he thinks he can bully into getting Indians back in line,” he said.
“(Harper) is going to say, ‘Get in line. We’re going to create some photo ops and we’re going to create an agenda that we can say is the right track to go, and you’re going to settle everything else down,’ ” said Lovelace, addressing hopes that this meeting might put an end to Idle No More protests that have been happening across Canada.
Lovelace said other natives will see through the charade and this could be devastating to the legitimacy of the Assembly of First Nations.
Claude Denis, a professor of political studies at the University of Ottawa, said he expects minimal progress at Friday’s meeting largely because of the fundamentally different visions the government and native leaders have about what progress would look like.
“The gap is bigger than it’s been in 30 years in terms of visions between the government and aboriginal people,” he said.
“The way to economic development (for aboriginals) in the mind of the prime minister is through individual initiative, business, the freeing of the markets, etc., which means, among other things, changing the laws on land ownership and control on reserves and, more broadly, aboriginal land.
“Whereas aboriginal communities, and especially First Nations, are thinking in terms of basically political sovereignty as a prerequisite for them to engage in the kind of economic development that they want to design for themselves, not just follow the same route that right-wing economics would have them take.”
In the survey, 43 per cent of those polled said relations between the federal government and aboriginals have worsened since 2006, when the Tories came to power. That compares to 38 per cent who said relations have stayed the same, seven per cent who said they have improved and 12 per cent who were not sure.
Canseco said the public puts blame on both the federal government and First Nations leaders for the current state of affairs, and this also plays into why they are not optimistic about this week’s meeting.
“(The public is) not really convinced that the federal government will do what it needs to do to assuage concerns, and there’s not a lot of confidence in the way First Nations leaders are going to be dealing with this,” Canseco said. “It’s almost a combination of ‘we don’t like the way either of them are doing things. How can we expect something good to happen when we don’t trust either side?’ ”
The Angus Reid survey was done online with 1,008 respondents between Jan. 7 and 8. The results are considered to accurately reflect the population within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Read it on Global News: Global News | Skepticism surrounds Harper meeting with First Nations
A group of First Nations people lead by Mohawk elder Sedalia Kawennotas Fazio, right, share traditional song and dance at a teach-in held in Montreal in solidarity with Idle No More on Jan. 7. Photo Corey Pool