THUNDER BAY -Editorial -Moving forward from the Crown First Nations Gathering will require more engagement, more discussion and solid steps toward action. There were some positive signs yesterday. One was that Prime Minister Harper stayed for the entire day. The Prime Minister was scheduled to depart after giving his speech to the Gathering. Staying sent a subtle message that the Government and the Prime Minister are listening.
The logical step forward will come with the active engagement toward real solutions. The problems are all known, and have been talked about for a long time. The overall issue raised by the Prime Minister was that the Conservatives have been doing many of the things which had been in the “talk shop” for over twenty years. Perhaps it is a contrast in styles that have many in the media and First Nations communities confused? Previous meetings often had grand announcements, declarations of Royal Commissions, but no substantive action to follow.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Greg Rickford says that the Crown First Nations Gathering has left him inspired and optimistic. Rickford has a great deal of experience from his boots on the ground experience and should be very busy over the coming months working on this file.
While some were expecting announcements from the federal government, that, had it happened, likely would have had people thinking the entire day was simply a photo-op. Prime Minister Harper has placed his government in a position where more engagement, and change can come from consensus. The Conservatives have opened the door, and started a discussion. Canadians will soon, likely get a feel for what will happen. The reality is that leaving First Nations communities alone and in their current status is unacceptable, and on that it is unlikely anyone in the room yesterday had any disagreement.
The path forward will not come easily. There is a degree of concern, optimism, or outright disbelief depending on which First Nation leader is commenting. That is to be expected. First Nations leaders and communities are as diverse as Canadian communities.
The contrast comes when First Nations and their leaders are feeling that they are not being involved in the decisions that impact their communities. The elephant in the room on Tuesday remained Attawapiskat. The First Nation on the shores of James Bay were placed under third party management in early December after declaration of a state of emergency over a housing crisis. The federal government looked out of step and appeared to react rather than to be pro-active.
Moving forward will take skill, openness and honest dialogue. On this most important file, Canadians are likely to get a full measure of the Harper Government over the coming months and years.
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