TORONTO– Liberal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development critic Dr. Carolyn Bennett sent the following letter today to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the relationship between the Crown and First Nations:
The Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
I write to you today on behalf of our Parliamentary caucus regarding a matter of critical importance which requires that you act expeditiously.
Your decision to treat First Nations in Canada as “adversaries” has done significant damage to the goodwill generated by your Statement of Apology on behalf of the Crown to former students of Indian Residential Schools. The discontent of First Nations with your government’s subsequent unilateral and paternalistic approach has reached a level that could irrevocably damage the relationship between First Nations and the Crown and will lead to long-term confrontation.
The hunger strike of Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat, which began on December 11, illustrates the profound frustration of First Nations leaders with your refusal to listen to or act upon their legitimate concerns. Your government has failed to uphold the responsibilities of the Crown to First Nations, including the duty to fully consult on policies and legislation which will directly impact on the rights of First Nations.
Since the Crown First-Nations Gathering your government has been ramming through legislation on First Nations’ financial reporting, matrimonial property on reserves, regulation of water and wastewater, various portions of the Indian Act, Aboriginal Fisheries, land management and environmental protection – all without proper prior consultation and the necessary resources to implement the changes being imposed upon them. In fact, your government has cut funding to Aboriginal councils and regional organizations, weakening their capacity to implement your government’s new rules and regulations.
Chief Spence has stated that she will remain on this hunger strike until a meeting can be arranged between the Crown, the federal government, provincial governments and all Treaty Nations to discuss outstanding issues regarding the Treaty relationship.
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn Atleo has requested that you and Governor General David Johnston both agree to a meeting to “demonstrate respect and attention to the priorities set by First Nations”.
I urge you to agree to participate in this meeting and meet with Chief Theresa Spence to hear directly from her why she has felt it necessary to take such drastic action to call attention to the deteriorating relationship between First Nations and your government.
Dr. Carolyn Bennett
Liberal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development critic