(Gatineau, QC) National Chief Perry Bellegarde convened a successful Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Policy Forum on Affirming First Nations Rights, Title and Jurisdiction on unceded Algonquin territory in Gatineau, Québec on September 11 and 12. More than 500 First Nation leaders and delegates from across the country gathered to share perspectives on strategic options to advance respect of First Nations rights.
Chiefs-in-Assembly gave direction for education and discussion through Resolution 39/2018, First Nations Determination to the Path to Decolonization. Among other things, this Resolution calls for the halt of the current federal initiative, the Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework. It also calls for the development of a First Nations-led negotiation process to ensure implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and a joint action plan for that implementation.
Delegates at the National Forum were provided an overview on the recent history of First Nations advocacy and lessons learned by First Nations lawyer David Nahwegahbow. International law expert Paul Joffe provided an analysis of the growing significance of international human rights law to advance respect and enforcement of Treaty and inherent rights, title and jurisdiction.
Delegates were also provided an overview of some regional and PTO positions. This included a presentation by lawyer Louise Mandell on work mandated by the First Nations Leadership Council in British Columbia to develop drafting instructions for federal legislation. Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians Deputy Grand Chief Gordon Peters provided a model for Ontario First Nations, and the Yukon distributed a discussion paper presenting issues respecting implementation challenges and comprehensive claims and self-government agreements (section 35 Treaty agreements).
Delegates were provided the opportunity to comment on Canada’s federal engagement process and to directly address Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett. Delegates shared their concerns and highlighted the deficiencies in both the approach and execution of the federal process, one that was unilaterally designed and executed by Canada.
Delegates attended breakout sessions by region, then reported back to the plenary and engaged in extensive dialogue in plenary. Discussion revealed that not all regions were given equal opportunity to funds for holding engagement sessions or to gather information on Canada’s proposal.
Canada’s proposal was analyzed on Day 2 of the Forum by Grand Chief Ed John of the Tl’azt’en Nation and Treaty 6 Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild. Plenary discussion showed that despite different views on the best strategic options to advance respect and implementation of First Nations rights, delegates were adamant that any joint initiative involving Canada must be based on an accurate understanding of the scope and content of First Nations rights, section 35 law, Treaties and international law. Canada’s current proposal fails to do so and, as such, more time and work is needed among First Nations to develop a strategy for a path forward.
Any co-development initiative would require federal leadership to correct inaccurate statements and repudiate colonization and doctrines of superiority. A First Nations-led process must contain clear roles and responsibilities for all parties and be grounded in the understanding that Canada and First Nations are equals. Principles of the Two Row Wampum were spoken to by Haudenosaunee delegates and Deputy Grand Chief Peters: the central principle of two canoes travelling down a river together where neither tries to steer the other.
First Nations, with the support of the AFN, are pressing for a reset of the current government process and a shift to a First Nations-led process. Getting it right means First Nations leading and working together and doing so in accordance with First Nations’ laws and customs, protocols and responsibilities. Getting it right means working together in ways that truly affirm and implement First Nations rights, title and jurisdiction. This work must not be rushed.
AFN will be preparing a full report on the Forum for distribution in the coming weeks. Additional forum materials are available at www.afn.ca or by request, including current AFN Resolutions 08/2018, Implementing Canada’s Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework and clarifying the role of AFN, and 39/2018, First Nations Determination to the Path to Decolonization.