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Updated: Thu, 10 Jan 2013 17:34:55 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

'Poverty is killing our people,' AFN Chief Shawn Atleo says



'Poverty is killing our people,' AFN Chief Shawn Atleo says

Poverty is killing First Nations people, says the country's top chief as he laid out goals for the meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper tomorrow.

Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says the AFN has heard the voices of Idle No More activists calling for action.

"We are absolute in our convictions and in our determination to achieve our rights," he said.

Referring to the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women, Atleo's voice caught as he recalled going with a family to a morgue after a 16-year-old girl was killed.

"This is what our people are saying. That poverty is killing our people. That the history of colonization and unilateral action on the part of governments will stop now," he said.

Atleo, along with regional chiefs Jody Wilson-Raybould and Perry Bellegarde, laid out a number of specific requests, including treaty implementation, treaty enforcement and a new financial relationship with the Crown. Bellegarde says one funding formula is 19 years old and hasn't kept up with either inflation or the total First Nations population.

Wilson-Raybould and Bellegarde both pointed to the need for a new division within the Prime Minister's Office or the Privy Council office to manage the policy changes they're asking for.

"The second point we talked about is, again, lands and resources being unilaterally developed without our involvement. That creates poverty. That's not good for our country. We need to deal with that," Bellegarde said, recommending Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver should be working on that file with the AFN.

'Poor in our own homelands'

The chiefs also mentioned disputes over changes to environmental legislation the Conservative government made in its two omnibus budget implementation bills in 2012.

"Our treaties were not meant to make us poor in our own homelands. But that's what we see," Bellegarde said.

Wilson-Raybould says the Indian Act needs to be fundamentally changed.

"Imposed solutions will not work," she said. "We have the solutions right across the country in terms of developing and extricating ourselves from the Indian Act."

Earlier Thursday, the prime minister's office relented slightly and scheduled a ceremonial meeting between Gov. Gen. David Johnston and First Nations leaders tomorrow.

The ceremonial meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. ET at Rideau Hall, following the working meeting, said Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Johnston had said that he wouldn't attend a working meeting on public policy, despite demands by some First Nations leaders, including Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, that he be there in his role as the Queen's representative in Canada.

A First Nations source told CBC News that Atleo, Bellegarde and Wilson-Raybould met with Harper's staff last night to press for Johnston's attendance.

Spence has limited her food intake for the past month, consuming only herbal tea and fish broth since Dec. 11. She says she will continue her protest until the meeting happens and said she wouldn't stop unless Johnston was at the meeting.

Spence's fast may continue

It's not clear yet whether a ceremonial meeting will meet those demands. Spence's spokesman, Danny Metatawabin, first told CBC News that the meeting with Johnston was a positive step, but then said if he isn't at the same meeting as Harper then it would be a failure.

Speaking to Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Grand Chief Stan Louttit said Spence won't be going to the meeting. Louttit leads the Mushkegowuk region that includes Attawapiskat.

Spence has maintained Harper, Johnston, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and First Nations leaders must be in the same room, having discussions together.

McGuinty has an unrelated press conference in Toronto Friday morning and then leaves for a trip to China.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is meeting with 20 national and regional First Nations chiefs Thursday night at Stornoway, the residence of the Opposition leader. Spence will not be at that meeting.

The meeting comes after nearly two months of Idle No More protests by First Nations people, as well as Spence's month-long hunger strike.

The working meeting will be held at Langevin Block, the building that houses the prime minister's office, and is closed to media, a spokeswoman for Harper said in an email.

The meeting will start at 1 p.m. ET with remarks by Harper and Atleo, with a plenary session from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. to discuss the treaty relationship, aboriginal rights and economic development.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan and Treasury Board President Tony Clement will be at the plenary sessions.

Harper and Atleo will "engage in a dialogue" about the outcomes of the plenary session from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.

'Nothing left to lose'

First Nations people in Canada have "nothing left to lose," the grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs told reporters Thursday morning, pointing to the problems with lack of housing, unsafe drinking water and poor health in the community.

Derek Nepinak said the Idle No More movement has enough people to "bring the Canadian economy to its knees."

"It can stop Prime Minister Harper's resource development plan and his billion-dollar plan to develop resources in our ancestral territories. We have the warriors that are standing up now that are willing to go that far. So we're not here to make requests. We're here to demand attention and to demand an end to 140 years of colonial rule," Nepinak said.

The Manitoba chiefs distributed a list of 10 treaty principles in advance, affirming their sovereignty and that Canada "has an on-going obligation to fulfill the treaty according to the spirit and intent."

The variety of First Nations stakeholder groups have brought mixed messages on what they're seeking from Friday's meeting. Spence wanted Johnston to be at the meeting with Harper and other leaders, and refused to go there if Johnston wouldn't.

Representatives from Idle No More have distanced themselves from the chiefs. The grassroots movement is also calling on the AFN to walk out of the meeting with Harper.

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