AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde, left, signs a memorandum of understanding with RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, during the AFN annual general assembly in Niagara Falls, Ont., on July 12, 2016. (Chris Glover/CBC)
Annual gathering of Indigenous chiefs goes today through Thursday in Niagara Falls, Ont.
By Susana Mas, CBC News Posted: Jul 12, 2016
The Assembly of First Nations signed an agreement with the RCMP on Tuesday to address racism and discrimination within the force as the two sides look for new ways to improve relations ahead of the federal government’s inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The memorandum of understanding comes just over six months after RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson openly admitted during the Special Chiefs in Assembly last December there are “racists” inside his police force.
“We invited the commissioner back again … to be part of this MOU… about how can we work together to deal with issues, deal with all those misconceptions that are within the police,” said National Chief Perry Bellegarde as the AFN kicked off its three-day annual general meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont.
“How can we work together to make sure that that air is cleared, that cloud is gone, that there is a bright sunny way within that RCMP?,” Bellegarde said.
While the government is not expected to launch an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women during the assembly, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett told First Nations chiefs it is “very close” to making that announcement.
Bellegarde said an inquiry will force police to answer some difficult questions about the force’s own shortcomings.
“When the inquiry is announced, be prepared, because you will come under question and focus about why did you not put more resources into these things upon investigation… why was there not more respect for the families, why was there not more communication? All these things are going to come out.”
“There is still a lot of hurt, still a lot of pain with the families that are still looking for closure,” Bellegarde said.
The national chief said the launch of a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women could come later this month, or next month.
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde signs a memorandum of understanding with Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett during the AFN annual general assembly in Niagara Falls, Ont., on July 12, 2016. (Chris Glover/CBC)
In his opening remarks, Bellegarde said Indigenous communities are “gaining momentum” — the theme of this year’s general assembly.
“It doesn’t mean all of our issues have been solved. But what it does mean is that, for the first time in a very long time, there is reason to believe that we are on the cusp of great change,” Bellegarde said.
“But it will take all of us, working together, to make it real for everyone.”
Bellegarde said the AFN also signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government “to create a new fiscal relationship, one based on real needs.”
The AFN signed the MOU with Bennett to form a working group to advise the government on how it should move forward with funding for Indigenous communities.
The agreement follows the Trudeau government’s pledge to forge a new fiscal relationship with First Nations.
First Nations to benefit from Hydro One shares
The general assembly began with Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day announcing that First Nations communities in Ontario will benefit from the sale of Hydro One shares.
“As of 9 a.m. this morning, the province of Ontario has entered into an agreement in principle will all 133 First Nations communities to sell 15 million shares of Hydro One for our collective benefit,” Day said in his opening remarks.
Some eight months ago, Ontario began the biggest sell-off of a Canadian crown corporation in 20 years.
Chiefs will also hash out strategies for moving beyond the Indian Act, the primary legislation used by the federal government to administer everything from laws to membership and elections in First Nation communities.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is also scheduled to attend the assembly.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with chiefs at a 2015 AFN gathering, his office told CBC he will not be attending the general assembly in Niagara Falls this week.