AFN gathering addresses MMIWG difficulties

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Big issues at the 38th Assembly of First Nations annual general assembly held in Regina July 25-27 included the MMIWG Inquiry and the recent memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

The MOU calls for three annual meetings to be held between Canada and the AFN Executive Committee, one of which will be chaired by Trudeau.

Two resolutions were presented on the MMIWG Inquiry; one was adopted while the other was defeated on the floor. The first, presented by Quebec and Ontario chiefs on behalf of families, called for a major redesign of the Inquiry.

The defeated resolution called for the resignation of the four remaining MMIWG commissioners. A lack of consensus on the side of the families ultimately led to its defeat.

“BC families weren’t present to have their say,” a source told the Nation. “The other question was, if the Yukon has already had their public hearing what happens to [their statements] if the remaining commissioners are removed?”

This year’s AFN AGA had a record 2007 registered delegates, involved four federal ministers and saw 62 resolutions presented, 60 passed, 1 defeated, 1 withdrew – eight shy of the record 70, set last year in Niagara Falls.

Also attending were several federal cabinet members, including Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, a former AFN Regional Chief for BC; Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett; Environment Minister Catherine McKenna; and Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale. Finance Minister Bill Morneau attended the Thursday session for a side meeting with the National Chief and Regional Executive.

There was also a resolution in protest of the signing of the MOU, but it was diplomatically withdrawn before it was presented on the floor. “There are those with doubts about the MOU with the Prime Minister,” said AFNQL Regional Chief Ghislain Picard. “Whether or not it will be fruitful remains to be seen, but there are many saying, ‘Let’s seize this opportunity.’”

This year, there was a noticeable lack of Cree participation at the AFN assembly. Last year saw Philip Awashish, one of the principal negotiators of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, give a presentation on “Moving Beyond the Indian Act”. His vision was fully realized mere weeks before the AGA with the signing of the Cree Governance Agreement.

With the new agreement in place and the Grand Council’s AGA happening just days after the AFN’s, it was understandable that Cree presence was lacking. According to Picard, the absence was a matter of circumstance.

“To me, it’s very important the Cree Nation stay connected to the AFN because they have important insights to provide to other nations in the process of moving beyond the Indian Act,” he commented.

Picard believes the AFN provides an invaluable service.

“Every First Nation is faced with the same challenge: how do we hold governments accountable to their obligations towards our Nations? There are First Nations to the west and in the Yukon who have similar situations to the Cree, and there is a great opportunity for facing challenges and sharing opportunities,” Picard noted.

“At these times, First Nations are at a crossroads in the resetting of their relationship with Canada and the provinces. NAFTA, for example, is being renegotiated, and we know now that Canada has left space for First Nations to be represented.”

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