There are great economic opportunities emerging in Atlantic Canada, especially in the natural resources sector. As these opportunities are advanced, it is important that First Nation treaty rights are respected and our environment is protected for future generations of all Canadians.

 On Jan. 11, Atlantic First Nation chiefs joined National Chief Shawn Atleo and hundreds of chiefs from across the country in Ottawa to show their support for the grassroots Idle No More movement and Chief Theresa Spence, and to meet with the prime minister to discuss and provide solutions to the challenges currently facing First Nation communities.

Idle No More has created a respectful dialogue and a high level of citizen engagement regarding important issues facing all Canadians. We are encouraged by the number of non-native Canadians who have joined with us to show their support and demand the change we all want to see — the protection of Canada’s natural resources for future generations.

While in Ottawa, our message was very clear. National Chief Atleo and Atlantic First Nation chiefs called on the government of Canada to stop passing laws and legislation that erode our First Nation treaty rights. We made it clear to the prime minister that we believe it is the responsibility of the government to work closely and consult regularly with First Nation people to ensure sustainable economic development across the country.

We also shared our concern with the prime minister regarding the Jobs and Growth Act (formerly known as C-45), an omnibus budget bill that received royal assent on Dec. 14 and is now law. Through this omnibus bill, amendments were made to the Indian Act, Navigational Protection Act, Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act and Employment Insurance Act, without any proper consultation with the Atlantic First Nation communities.

The amendments to these acts will have negative implications within the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and Innu communities. We advised the prime minister, his cabinet colleagues and senior officials that Atlantic First Nation chiefs and communities reject the implementation of the Jobs and Growth Act and changes in policy and regulations that will adversely impact aboriginal and treaty rights.

Montreal, Quebec's Idle No More ...

The prime minister agreed that there is a critical need to improve the relationship between the government of Canada and First Nation communities across the country.

The prime minister committed to moving forward with a clear mandate for high-level discussions on treaty implementation and comprehensive claims. We are pleased that the government of Canada has committed to an ongoing dialogue with us in order to advance this important mandate.

First Nation communities in Atlantic Canada require strong and stable relationships and innovative results-based partnerships with all levels of government to promote change and to support the continued growth of First Nation participation in the economy.

In order to achieve parity with all other Canadians, we believe economic investment in First Nation communities must empower and support economic self-reliance and independence.

The future of the Canadian economy is tied to the success of First Nation people. Our youth are the fastest growing population in Canada, and we are ready to provide highly skilled and educated workers to join the workforce and contribute to the economic growth of this country.

Canadian First Nation peoples are united in their determination to see fundamental change. And Atlantic chiefs are pleased that the government has a mandate to work with all First Nation communities to ensure we achieve full respect of our treaty rights.

We look forward to enhancing our relationship with the government of Canada so we can work together to advance sustainable, long-term prosperity for Atlantic Canada, and all Canadians.
 Chief Candice Paul and Chief Deborah Robinson are co-chairs, Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat.

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