OTTAWA – Don’t expect another January 11 any time soon.
Following an historic meeting last winter at the height of the Idle No More movement, National Chief Shawn Atleo says he’s not pushing for another one-on-one with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“We don’t have a meeting scheduled nor am I pushing for a meeting with the prime minister at this time,” Atleo said Monday.
Following a high-profile meeting last January, Atleo quietly met with the prime minister in June to hand-deliver a letter from treaty leaders. At that time, he said he was “still pressing” for a meeting.
It doesn’t appear the two are in any rush to meet again.
Atleo said he’s more interested in engaging with the Crown, citing a recent example of ministers travelling to British Columbia to meet with individual First Nations.
“Engagement to the Crown directly with nations is what I continue to advocate and push for,” he said.
“So direct nation-to-nation, treaty-by-treaty engagement is critical.”
Atleo made the comments while speaking about the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation, a landmark document that set the foundation of aboriginal land rights, trade and self-determination in Canada.
The head of the Assembly of First Nations also said the principles of the proclamation must guide First Nations work today.
“We must resolve the long standing issues of First Nations control over lands, and our lives,” he said.
“This means honouring and implementing the treaties where they exist, and where they do not, committing ourselves to a fair just and timely approach to resolving land issues.”’
The Prime Minister’s Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but both the prime minister and the governor general released statements Monday about the Royal Proclamation.
“Our government is committed to continue working in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis to make concrete progress on common goals and initiatives,” Harper said in a release.
“This includes ongoing dialogue on the treaty relationship and comprehensive land claims. We are also taking concrete action on education, economic development, housing, child and family services, access to safe drinking water, as well as the extension of human rights protection and matrimonial real property rights to First Nations people.”
Atleo pointed to the issue of education, saying that it’s critical for First Nations to be in “the driver’s seat,” designing and implementing upcoming legislation.
The government has promised a First Nations Education Act by 2014. It released a blueprint document this summer which promises sections on interpretation, education standards, and funding, and notes that the proposed act would place accountability in the hands of First Nations.
“A key consideration noted would be how to transition from the current to the new system. An Act might need to set out timelines for establishing the new structures,” it reads.
But Atleo said the blueprint does not meet the standards of First Nations’ control over education.
“Any suggestion that there be ministerial oversight on systems that are set up is just a shadow of residential schools that we’ve just come from seven generations,” said Atleo.
“We’re talking about a population in this country, First Nations, who’ve experienced seven generations of an education policy where every effort was made to oppress our people, to tear our families apart.”
Atleo also addressed the visit of UN fact-finder James Anaya, a law professor who is visiting Canada to speak to First Nations representatives and government officials as he drafts a report for the world body. He arrived in Canada on Sunday evening and will travel the country before leaving next week.
“The consciousness of the country is increasingly being pierced, and I believe within the next year Canada is going to be reflected in the international community based on how it responds in this moment to the issue of indigenous peoples’ rights in this country,” said Atleo.
He said he has not spoken with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt regarding a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
“I remain hopeful, our people remain resolute,” said Atleo.
With a file from The Canadian Press