By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
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.”