Minister of AANDC attacks First Nation chiefs in parliament creating confrontation over education


Valcourt attacks Confederacy of Nations, calls chiefs 'rogue' and threats to national security

16. MAY, 2014 - By Jorge Barrera

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt moved aggressively to undermine the Confederacy of Nations Thursday, labeling the chiefs behind the organization as rogues who are "threatening" national security.

The Confederacy of Nations, a governing body within the Assembly of First Nations, met for the first time in 10 years this week in Ottawa. The Confederacy passed a motion rejecting Bill C-33, the First Nation Control of First Nations Education Act, and set out a plan to request a meeting with Valcourt on education.

Valcourt launched the attack in the House of Commons after facing questions from NDP MP Jean Crowder over whether he was ready to meet with the Confederacy of Nations.

"The members of the House will agree that we should, as members, condemn in the strongest terms the threat of those rogue chiefs who are threatening the security of Canadians, their families and tax-payers," said Valcourt, during question period.

Earlier this week, the Confederacy warned of shutting down the Canadian economy if Ottawa continued to impose legislation on First Nations. It also circulated a draft declaration seeking to negotiate an education accord with Ottawa.

The draft declaration was sent back to the communities for additional discussion, said Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee. The draft will be shared with community members before it's brought back to a special AFN chiefs assembly in Ottawa on May 27 for amendments and adoption, said Madahbee.

Valcourt, however, seized on the draft document in an attempt to undermine the Confederacy, which is accountable to the AFN chiefs, but has oversight powers over the AFN executive and the national chief

"I will meet with these people when they unequivocally withdraw their threat to the security of Canadian families, taxpayers and citizens," said Valcourt. "I don't believe these chiefs represent the majority of the chiefs and councils throughout Canada and who care about reconciliation and who care about their children and their education."

Valcourt said he hoped that the "good working and good willing chiefs" would speak up against the Confederacy.

Crowder, who is the NDP's Aboriginal affairs critic, said Valcourt, "like other Conservatives is too willing to smear anyone who opposes" his agenda.

APTN National News asked the minister's office to clarify his statement regarding the "rogue chiefs" but there was no response to the request.

The Confederacy meeting was triggered by Ontario chiefs who represent one of the largest populations of Indigenous peoples in the country. First Nation leaders from Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories also attended the Confederacy meeting which met in a church basement on Wednesday.

Ontario regional Chief Stan Beardy said the meeting, which he requested before Shawn Atleo resigned as national chief, needed to happen because First Nation people faced a crisis over education after the introduction of Bill C-33.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said Valcourt was spreading misinformation.

"I think the minister is purposely playing into the hands of that segment of the population that can be easily mislead that we are about blockades, that we are about threats," said Nepinak. "We are not about that at all, we came here to talk about education."

Beardy said no decision had been made on the draft declaration and he would follow the will of the chiefs.

"I take my direction for the chiefs until such a time as they come back with explicit direction," said Beardy.

Sources tell APTN National News chiefs in the room debated the need for direct action and economic shut downs. There was also discussions around strategies to avoid injunctions and arrests. But many chiefs spoke of the need for restrain.

Dene Nation Chief Bill Erasmus, who is the regional chief for the Northwest Territories, spoke passionately about the need to keep things peaceful, according to sources. Erasmus told the gathered chiefs the treaties were about peace and friendship, according to sources.

Sources said Sakimay First Nation Chief Lynn Acoose also spoke for peace, describing the hanging of Union Jack flags during a particular ceremony and how the elders did that to pray for their treaty partner, the settlers who were their neighbours.

In an interview with APTN National News, Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon, whose community was at the centre of the Oka crisis, said an economic shut-down may not work at the moment.

"My concern is public opinion, public opinion to our cause is kind of shaky at best...I don't think the regular Joe Canadian will sympathize much with us if we employ that type of tactic," said Simon. "I would advise them (the chiefs) with extreme caution when they start talking like that."

The main focus of the meeting, however, was on education and the need to come up with options to present to Ottawa with Bill C-33 now flatly rejected.

A committee of the Confederacy plans to continue working in the run-up to the May 27 meeting to craft options for a "counter-proposal" on education to present to Valcourt.

Valcourt said in a May 15 letter to Nova Scotia regional Chief Morley Googoo that the education bill would remain on hold until the AFN clarified its position.

Chiefs from the East and West coasts will also be discussing whether to engage officially with the Confederacy in the run up to meeting at the end of the month.

Chiefs from Nova Scotia and British Columbia, along with their technical staff, showed up Thursday for a planned AFN chiefs committee on education meeting. That meeting, however, was cancelled by the confederacy.

Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny, whose Mi'kmaq community is in Nova Scotia, told the chiefs he could not add his name to the list of delegates because he did not mandate from his chiefs, according to a source. Denny said he needed to take the issue back to his region to discuss it before a final decision.

AFN B.C. Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould said the regional delegation couldn't stay for the meeting because they were not mandated to be there.

"I am not against the idea of the Confederacy, I just think that the Confederacy has to be duly convened. It has to be respectful of all voices and make sure all voices are heard and that process didn't take place," said Wilson-Raybould, in an interview. "None of my leadership are here. If we come to May 27 and all of our leadership agrees and supports reinvigorating the Confederacy of Nations as ascribed by our charter then I am 100 per cent supportive of that."



First Nations relations with Ottawa tested over 'economic shutdown' threat

Bernard Valcourt says he won't meet with 'rogue chiefs' until threat withdrawn

By Susana Mas, May 15, 2014 

First Nations chiefs meet in Ottawa

First Nations chiefs meet in Ottawa 8:22

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An already strained relationship between First Nations and the federal government was tested further on Thursday after a group of chiefs threatened an "economic shutdown" of the Canadian economy if Ottawa did not withdraw Bill C-33, the First Nations education act.

An internal statement drafted by the Confederacy of Nations, dated May 14 and obtained by CBC News today, said "should Canada not withdraw and cease all imposed legislation on First Nations without our free, prior and informed consent, we will strategically and calculatedly begin the economic shutdown of Canada's economy from coast to coast."

The clash between the two sides came less than two week after Shawn Atleo resigned as national chief for the Assembly of First Nations.

The Confederacy of Nations, a governing body within the Assembly of First Nations, met in Ottawa on Wednesday and again today to discuss the government's controversial First Nations education bill.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the statement was not intended to be made public, nor was it intended to constitute a threat.

"This statement has been taken a little bit out of context," Nepinak said on Thursday afternoon.

In an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Nepinak told host Evan Solomon "this statement has not been vetted nor approved by any of us, it's been a discussion and I think it reflects some of the frustration that some of the chiefs are experiencing."

"This is an expression of the frustration of indigenous people."

The government put "on hold" Bill C-33 - its prized but controversial First Nations education bill - until the Assembly of First Nations "clarifies" its position on the bill, following the sudden resignation of Shawn Atleo as national chief for the AFN.

"We have exposed that there is a very, very broad and diverse body of indigenous people across the country who are not accepting of this bill, " Nepinak said.

The internal document, which is being referred to as "a draft," will be submitted for approval during a special chiefs assembly scheduled for May 27 in Ottawa.

'Rogue chiefs'

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt told the Commons today he would not meet with a group of "rogue chiefs" until they withdrew their threat to bring the Canadian economy to a halt.

"I will meet with these people when they unequivocally withdraw their threat to the security of Canadian families, taxpayers and citizens," Valcourt said during question period on Thursday.

NDP aboriginal critic Jean Crowder asked Valcourt if he would meet with the Confederacy of Nations.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt says he won't meet with representatives of the Confederacy of Nations, a governing body within the Assembly of First Nations, until the chiefs withdraw their threat to bring the economy to a halt. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

‚Äč"I think that members of the House will agree that we should ask members to condemn in the strongest terms the rogue chiefs who are threatening the security of Canadians, their families and taxpayers," Valcourt said.

The minister said he doesn't think the group represents the majority of First Nations chiefs and councils.

"I trust that the good, hard-working chiefs will speak up," Valcourt said.

Chiefs speak out

Ghislain Picard, the regional chief for Quebec and Labrador who has been acting as spokesman for the Assembly of First Nations since Atleoresigned, is one of several chiefs who attended the two-day Confederacy of Nations meeting in Ottawa.

"The 'rogue' chiefs are as duly elected as he is," Picard told CBC News on Thursday.

"The minister is out of order and should apologize."

Picard acknowledged that some of the language in the statement was strong, but said it would not be the first time First Nations have used such language to get the government's attention.

He hoped the government would see this as an opportunity "to engage with First Nations in a meaningful way."

"Give us a good reason to go back and tell our people that the government of Canada is negotiating in good faith," Picard said.

Valcourt should 'resign'

Nepinak, who also attended the two-day meeting in Ottawa, took a harder line.

The grand chief from Manitoba said he was disappointed to see that Valcourt had resorted to name-calling and that the minister should step aside.

"I think the appropriate thing for this minister to do is to recognize that he's failed First Nations people in trying to advance this bill [C-33] through a manufactured consent and resign."

Nepinak told host Evan Solomon he was "extremely disappointed that the minister would come out and start making accusations and calling people names like that."

"What he has done is he has shown Canada that he has lost the handle on the file and he needs to make way for someone who is willing to take a less rigid position, someone who is willing to recognize that there is a new process that is being started by the AFN and show some respect to it," Nepinak said.

The Manitoba chief said First Nations want to get rid of Bill C-33.

"And if Bernard Valcourt is not the man to sit down with us, as he says he's not, then we need to find somebody who will."

'Draft' document

The internal document, which has not been approved by a special chiefs assembly, also showed that the group agreed to:

  • "Vehemently reject the imposition of legislation" by the federal government, in particular Bill C-33. 
  • Call on the Canadian government to sit down and negotiate "an alternative" to Bill C-33 including "a new fiscal transfer mechanism."
  • Create a Confederacy of Nations co-ordinating committee.
  • Create a working group to support the committee.
  • Give the committee the power to "enter into discussions with the minister about an alternative to Bill C-33."
  • Get the government to agree "to pay all costs of this meeting" and future meeting of the committee and working group,
  • Instruct the AFN to "support all aspects of this Confederacy decision."
  • Directs the AFN "to refrain from any discussions with the government related to Bill C-33 or other matters" being handled by the committee.

The group will reconvene on May 28 to start implementing any decisions made by the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly the day before, the internal statement said.