Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers are spending Tuesday at the Big River First Nation, near Debden, Sask., to meet with Indigenous leaders.
The meeting involves the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and Native Women’s Association of Canada. The Metis National Council and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami will not be in attendance.
The meeting is expected to focus on federal changes to child and family services, which aim to give First Nations, Metis and Inuit more jurisdiction over these matters in their communities.
“My community is thrilled to host Premiers and National Indigenous Leaders at Big River First Nation,” Chief Bruce Morin said in a statement. “We look forward to showcasing our hospitality and sharing our innovations during the meeting.”
AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde emphasized the need for provincial and Indigenous leaders to work collaboratively to implement the new federal child and family services legislation.
“I am thrilled to be bringing Premiers and leaders of Canada’s National Indigenous Organizations to Big River First Nation, the first time this meeting has been held on a first nation,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said in a statement.
Moe added it is a great forum for leaders to find ways to collaborate and better serve First Nations, Metis and Inuit families across Canada.
Previously, groups like the AFN have skipped Council of the Federation (CoF) meetings. CoF runs from July 9 to 11 in Saskatoon.
On July 8, the AFN put out a statement that it will be highlighting the disproportionate amount of poverty experienced by First Nations children.
“Canada is not tracking First Nations poverty on-reserve so we did,” said Bellegarde. “The findings of this report are shameful and underscore the urgent need to invest in First Nations children, families and communities.”
Bellegarde then highlighted the need for co-operation among governments to address issues like access to clean water, infrastructure and education on reserve.
The AFN co-authored a report released July 8 that says children on reserves are four times more likely to experience poverty than non-Indigenous children, and more than half of on-reserve children live in poverty.
The report was co-authored with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and published by Saskatchewan-based advocacy group Upstream, which was founded by Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili.
The premiers from Ontario, P.E.I., Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are not in attendance. The Maritime premiers were held up due to flight difficulties according to Premier Moe’s communications staff.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford plans on being in Saskatoon Tuesday evening for a reception at the Remai Art Gallery, also involving the chiefs, according to his press secretary. Ontario was represented at the Big River First Nation meeting by that province’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault spoke with the media prior to the meeting. He said he is pleased to see Chief Bellegarde return to CoF after boycotting the meeting in recent years.
“It’s never easy, but we know we have to make improvements regarding services; education services, healthcare services, so I am very happy that he’s here,” Legault said.
In Saskatchewan, Indigenous children make up a vast majority of children in government care.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron said this is a historic meeting, as the FSIN has long advocated for increased First Nations control of child and family services.
“We must remind them of inherent treaty rights. We will educate them on treaty and we will remind them and we will continue to remind them of treaty,” Cameron said.
“Long before any government or settlers arrived on these lands, we as First Nations were here first; living, thriving and surviving off the lands and waters.”
A changed provincial landscape
This is the last Council of the Federation before October’s federal election. The makeup of provincial leaders is a far cry from the group that greeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the start of his term.
Liberal governments in Ontario, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have been replaced by Progressive Conservative governments.
The right-leaning Coalition Avenir Quebec formed government in that province after defeating the Liberals in 2018.
In Alberta, the NDP government lost to the United Conservative Party in April.
Provincial Liberals held onto power in Nova Scotia during their 2017 election and the Newfoundland Liberals fell to minority status following their 2019 election.
In 2017, the B.C. Liberals held minority status but were replaced in government by that province’s NDP, propped up by the Green Party.
The conservative-leaning Saskatchewan Party has been in power in the Prairie province since 2017.
Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick and P.E.I are all seeking intervener status in Saskatchewan’s Supreme Court of Canada case against one of the signature policies of the Trudeau government: the federal price on carbon.
Courts of appeal in both Saskatchewan and Ontario have ruled in favour of Ottawa having the constitutional authority to impose a federal backstop on provinces that don’t meet their carbon pricing standards. Both were split decisions.
Once the premiers reconvene in Saskatoon for the remainder of the Council of the Federation, inter-provincial trade, immigration, strengthening the North, and “strategic infrastructure” are the main points on the agenda Wednesday and Thursday.