First Nations decry lack of PM face time at summit
Aboriginal leaders assembled in Ottawa for what was billed as a historic summit say they haven't been given enough face time with the prime minister, amid an ongoing housing crisis in many First Nations communities.
Leaders from Canada's First Nations communities have been waiting for a meeting with Stephen Harper for years, and many hoped this week's meeting would end with fundamental changes to their strained relationship with the federal government.
But on Monday, when they were finally given their chance to meet with Harper during a hastily arranged visit, the meeting only lasted a few minutes, CTV's Daniele Hamamdjian reported.
"Seven minutes after several years. If that's what we're worth to Canada, so be it," said Cameron Alexis, who had travelled to Ottawa from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation in Alberta.
By arranging the short meeting, perhaps Harper's office was trying to muffle criticism about his lack of participation in the summit, said Hamadjian.
In fact, during Tuesday's proceedings, only a short photo-op was on Harper's schedule, along with a 15-minute speech.
Meanwhile, other leaders were more vocal in their disappointment that Harper wouldn't be more active in the summit.
"It's very disappointing. It's like a slap in the face … we made the effort to come," said Adam Fiddler, from Ontario's Sandy Lake community.
Along with Harper's appearance, 11 cabinet ministers and bureaucrats will also take part in the talks Tuesday.
Native leaders held a plenary session Monday morning before breaking off into regional groups to discuss issues of importance in their communities.
Edward John, Grand Chief of the Tl'azt'en Nation in British Columbia, said leaders have "a number of plans" they intend to put forward to Harper and members of his cabinet that "we hope will help set the relationship on a better footing than we have now."
John said much of Canada's wealth is generated by its natural resources, and the poverty of First Nations communities comes from the fact they don't share in that economic prosperity.
"There needs to be some fairness and equity in the distribution of resources so that First Nations are able to develop economies that they can rely on," John told CTV News Channel.
"Right now the relationship between the Crown and First Nations is one of dependency and it's an unfortunate relationship but one which I think can be changed where First Nations are able to build on their lands and their resources in their respective territories to be able to provide opportunities and benefits for their own people."
About 30 native leaders joined National Chief Shawn Atleo to open the day with a pipe ceremony. The sacred fire will continue burning through Monday's and Tuesday's meetings.
Leaders will also be able to break off into smaller groups to meet with cabinet ministers and other government officials to discuss specific issues.
With files from The Canadian Press