Update on the AFN 36th Annual General Assembly – July 7-9, Montréal, Québec
The Assembly of First Nations 36th Annual General Assembly (AGA) took place July 7-9, 2015 in Montréal, Québec. More than 1,000 delegates and observers gathered in Haudenosaunee (Mohawk) territory to discuss key issues and plan strategies and a path forward to advance First Nations priorities. Hundreds more followed the proceedings online through the AGA webcast.
The Assembly heard from federal party leaders Thomas Mulcair (New Democratic Party) Justin Trudeau (Liberal) and Elizabeth May (Green Party). The leaders made important public commitments to Close the Gap and to eliminate the 2% cap, which we have long known is really a cap on prosperity and opportunity for First Nations and Canada. It is a failed policy that holds all of us back. All three leaders also agreed to support many of the ideas First Nations are putting forward, including a high level Cabinet table to deal with any laws or initiatives that affect our people; a mandatory review of any new or existing laws or policies to ensure they are consistent with our rights and Treaties; and commitments to honouring the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Each party leader put forward approaches for working in partnership with First Nations. The key for all of us is to hold the parties and their leaders to the commitments made to First Nations.
The Importance of Political Engagement in the Federal Election
After the Assembly opening ceremonies, we began an important discussion on mobilizing the First Nations vote for the upcoming federal election, scheduled to take place October 19. A wide range of views were expressed. One thing was clear. There is widespread agreement that First Nations peoples can play a powerful role in choosing the direction of the country. There are 51 ridings in which our votes can make the difference in who will be the federal representative in Ottawa. 51 ridings in which we can have make our voices clear and we can cast a ballot for a government that will meet its obligations to our people. We will be talking about this much more during the next two months.
During the AGA, Chiefs-in-Assembly passed 42 resolutions. These include a commitment to convene a National Indigenous Energy Forum. Other resolutions provide support and direction on Full Implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, Revitalization of Indigenous Languages: Concrete Actions to Support Indigenous Language Teachers and Cultural Centres, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and Canada’s Obligation to Develop with Indigenous Peoples a National Action Plan for Implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These and all other resolutions are available at www.afn.ca.
Delegates also discussed strategy and action on priorities including AFN restructuring and nation-building, action on the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, First Nations and energy development, and First Nations education. There were focused dialogue sessions on a range of issues including ending violence against Indigenous women and girls, Indigenous languages, Treaties, land rights and claims, child welfare and more.
We come out of this Assembly strong and united. Once again we are standing together and standing up for our people – standing together and committing to action to Close the Gap. I thank all those who participated in the Assembly, who viewed it online and who expressed their views and opinions on the direction forward.
Update on the Council of Federation – July 15, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador
Shortly after the AGA, I attended the meeting of Premiers and National Aboriginal Leaders in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador on July 15, 2015. This meeting is a regular event prior to the premiers’ Council of the Federation meeting.
My message to the premiers is that all governments – including the federal government – must work together collaboratively with Indigenous peoples on real action and outcomes that will close the gap in quality of life between First Nations and the rest of Canada. I highlighted priority areas for action, including energy and the economy, education, revitalization of Indigenous languages, ending violence against Indigenous women and girls and the overrepresentation of First Nations children in the child welfare system. I also urged premiers to ensure First Nations are fully included in the development and design of any National Energy Strategy. A strategy will only succeed with the involvement of First Nations as full partners.
During the meeting, I was able to recognize the efforts by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in her province, calling this an example of positive and constructive action that premiers can take to advance reconciliation and close the gap. I am also pleased to note that all 13 premiers expressed support for the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.
A key area of discussion was follow-up to the February 2015 National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Manitoba has agreed to host the second Roundtable in 2016 and Ontario will provide coordination for tracking and furthering outcomes and commitments. Alberta will lead development of a socio-economic action plan for Aboriginal women.
The absence of the federal government was noted throughout the meeting and premiers committed to communicating directly with the federal government to outline their actions and approaches and to call on the federal government to fulfill its responsibilities.
The AFN’s submission at the meeting – “Closing the Gap: Seeking Reconciliation, Advancing First Nations Well Being and Human Rights” – can be viewed at: http://www.afn.ca/uploads/files/closing_the_gap_-_seeking_reconciliation_advancing_first_nations_well_being_and_human_rights_fe.pdf
Finally, I want to close by offering our thoughts and prayers to all those affected by the fires in Saskatchewan and elsewhere in the western regions. A blanket dance was held during the Assembly of First Nations 36th Annual General Assembly and more than $12,000 was raised in donations for those affected by the fires. Please keep all those affected by the fires in your thoughts and please donate or support them in any way you can.
We will continue to keep informed of all developments over the summer months.
National Chief Perry Bellegarde,
Assembly of First Nations