AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde in Fort Qu'Appelle in September. Photo by Manfred Joehnck.
EDITOR'S NOTE: AFN previously said Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna would be present, but made a correction on Friday afternoon saying there were last-minute changes and they will not be present.
Next week the Assembly of First Nations Special Assembly will see the return of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and he will bring several of his top cabin ministers along with him.
Trudeau was the first-ever Prime Minister to attend the meeting.
The assembly begins Monday in Gatineau, Quebec. Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour MaryAnn Mihychuk, and Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc are all expected to address the four-day conference.
It will be an opportunity to review progress over the past year and to provide direction for what still needs to be done, said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who is clearly appreciative of the opportunity.
Bellegarde says progress has been made on a number of fronts, including the inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, but he says there is still lots of work to be done on education, treaty rights, preserving First Nations languages and getting rid of the Indian Act.
He says having the ear of the Prime Minister makes a huge difference and is a rare opportunity for the chiefs.
“When was the last time a sitting Prime Minister addressed the Chiefs of Canada? Basically never,” he said.
The environment will also come up for discussion at the conference; specifically, the approval of a couple of new pipelines including the replacement of a line through Saskatchewan. Bellegarde says he will make sure the duty to consult is part of the process.
“The message to governments, both federal and provincial, and to industry is that if you want any project to go ahead you better involve Indigenous people from start to finish on any plan or project going forward,” he said.
Bellegarde also has a message to First Nations chiefs, saying it is time to talk about and end the rampant sexual abuse of children on First Nations. He says the damage being done has to stop.
“I think it is still a fall-out from the residential schools,” he said. “It is hurt people hurting people. It’s wounded people wounding people, and if we don’t start talking about it as leaders, it’s not going to end.”
The assembly begins with strategy sessions on Monday and ends with discussions on child welfare and resolutions on Thursday.