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Assembly of First Nations wants Constitution to recognize them as order of government

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde listens to a question as he speaks with the media following the First Ministers' and National Indigenous Leaders' Meeting in Ottawa, Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – The head of the Assembly of First Nations says Canada needs to change the Constitution to ensure indigenous leaders can be in the room when the prime minister sits down to do serious business with the provinces and territories.

Indigenous leaders are frustrated at being invited to today’s meeting with the premiers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, but excluded from the afternoon session on climate change.

READ MORE: First ministers meet in Ottawa to discuss climate change, health care

Aboriginal Peoples and their traditional way of life suffer some of the worst effects of climate change, despite having next to nothing to do with the cause, so they should be fully involved in decisions on what to do about it, they say.

The challenge right now is that the Constitution does not recognize First Nations, Metis and Inuit leaders as representatives from an order of government, said National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who acknowledged aboriginal priorities were discussed during the morning meeting.

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He says that until the Constitution is “fixed,” Aboriginal Peoples will always be excluded.

Bellegarde is calling for a first ministers conference devoted entirely to Section 35 of the Constitution, which recognizes the rights of Aboriginal Peoples, so they can get serious about building a nation-to-nation relationship.

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