July 9, 2019 8:01 pm
Updated: July 10, 2019 7:26 am

AFN chief says Canadians are divided on pipelines, energy policy

WATCH: Bellegarde says 'Canadians are divided' on Trans Mountain, energy

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Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde ended a two year boycott of Canada’s premiers meeting, in order to talk with the subnational leaders about child and family services, energy, and broadening economic opportunities.

Meeting on the Big River Cree Nation, about 250 kilometres north of Saskatoon, premiers from most of Canada’s provinces met leaders of Indigenous organizations ahead of the annual Council of the Federation (CoF).

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“I wanted to be a part of this because this has never happened before in Canada, where the premiers come out to a First Nations reserve. That’s the first reason I wanted to be here,” Bellegarde said.

Bellegarde added he also wanted to be at the meeting to talk with the premiers about Bill C-92, which recently passed. The bill aims to reduce the number of First Nations, Metis and Inuit children in government care and give greater child and family services jurisdiction to Indigenous communities.

READ MORE: Canada’s premiers meet with Indigenous leaders to talk child and family services

“I encouraged the premiers to establish those tables, those working groups and begin that dialogue to start talking about jurisdiction, but always putting the needs of the child first,” Bellgarde said.

The national chief said he hopes these working groups between the provinces and Indigenous communities can lead to a model of prevention and not apprehension.

WATCH: Scott Moe says no ‘one size fits all’ approach on helping children in Canada

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he was appreciative to have Bellegarde at the table for this discussion. He noted there is still a long way to go in shifting greater jurisdiction to Indigenous communities as each province has its own model for child and family services.

“We have a number of child and family services agreements with our First Nations across the province. They’re working well, but there’s much more room for improvement as we move forward,” Moe said.

READ MORE: Liberals introduce bill to help curb number of Indigenous children in foster care

The AFN recently released a study they co-authored, which says about half of Indigneous children live in poverty, and they are four times more likely to experience poverty than non-Indigenous children.

“That led to a broader discussion as well on engagement in general and engagement with our First Nations in general economy, our Canadian economy,” Moe said.

The premier pointed to success seen by Big River Cree Nation in Saskatchewan’s forestry sector.

Pipeline discussion

Another economic matter that will be a conversation point at CoF is pipelines. Projects like the TransMountain expansion are highly controversial, especially in the Indigenous community. At least one group wants to buy the pipeline, while others would rather see it not progress.

Bellegarde said he and the premiers had a “general dialogue” on finding a balance between energy projects, the economy and the environment.

“Canadians are divided, premiers are divided, chiefs are divided. I would encourage dialogue, discussion, debate and let the rights and title holders determine the best next steps,” Bellegarde said.

“My position has always been it’s up to the rights and titleholders. It’s also been create the space for dialogue.”

READ MORE: Several B.C. First Nations launch legal challenge of re-approved Trans Mountain pipeline

Bellegarde said this will always be a controversial issue, but believes the right economic and environmental balance can be struck with all necessary voices at the table.

He added what people want to see are hard environmental transition plans because the world will not be using fossil fuels forever.

“We’re all too dependent on fossil fuels. We know that, but you can’t turn the tap off tomorrow morning,” Bellegarde said.

“We need to balance the environment and economy, but we need to see the plan quicker to transition to clean energy.”

READ MORE: Ottawa won’t rush into sale of Trans Mountain pipeline to Indigenous groups: Sohi

Bellegarde noted this is a pre-CoF meeting and he will continue to push for Indigenous representation at meetings involving provincial, territorial and federal officials.

The premiers will continue to meet over July 10 and 11 in Saskatoon for CoF.

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