Last Thursday, I sat down with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo for a wide-ranging interview in advance of National Aboriginal Day. The story I posted went up mid-afternoon on Friday.
Towards the end of the interview I asked Atleo if he knew when he’d speak with Prime Minister Stephen Harper again, after last January’s high-profile talks between the federal government and aboriginal leadership.
“No. We’re still pressing,” Atleo replied.
“If there is a point in time where there is value in it to push it further and to achieve a better understanding of what was said both in January as well as to troubleshoot, you know, where there are still challenges – which there are – then that’s a conversation I’d be open to have. So we’ll have to see if that does happen.”
Turns out it did – later that day.
Postmedia reported Monday that Atleo met with Harper on Thursday, “announced after the fact and with little fanfare.”
I’ll say. Atleo’s office said he met with Harper after our mid-morning interview, around 4:45 p.m., and “there was no meeting scheduled at the time of your interview.”
A spokeswoman called it an oversight for not sending me the info Thursday evening.
According to Atleo’s office, treaty leaders had asked him to deliver a letter to the prime minister, and the AFN posted an open letter to chiefs and councils on its website later that day.
The letter sought clarity on treaty implementation, and Atleo said he pressed Harper for a clear timeline on a comprehensive claims policy. “As directed by leadership, we pressed for clarity on these commitments and the establishment of clear timelines and targets on these commitments and he expressed agreement to working towards these important next steps,” wrote Atleo.
But where the meeting took place, for how long, and who else was present remains a mystery.
According to the Prime Minister’s office, Harper met with Atleo to discuss “the progress made since January 11 on priorities we share with First Nations, particularly education and comprehensive claims.”
The PMO said in a statement the two discussed progress made by senior oversight committees on comprehensive claims, and the prime minister encouraged the committee created on the treaty relationship “to focus their efforts on clear objectives that will lead to tangible, practical measures to strengthen the treaty relationship and enhance treaty implementation.”
They also talked about the First Nations Education Act, due by Sept. 2014.
It begs some questions: can Atleo arrange a meeting with the prime minister with less than a day’s notice, or vice versa? And why did the prime minister’s office portray the meeting as a formal one, while Atleo’s office considered it more of a letter drop-off?
Atleo’s office did not answer follow-up questions about how the meeting was arranged, and where. And a spokesman for Harper said he does not comment “on discussions we have with third party organizations when planning meetings.”
One thing’s for sure: I’ll be asking my interviews what they have planned for later that day, just in case.
Update: APTN reports the two met in the prime minister’s office inside the Langevin block for about 15 minutes. January’s meeting lasted about four hours.