MLA Clarke responds to First Nations meeting, protests

by Phil Ambroziak

Rob Clarke is optimistic about the future.

Following a high-profile working meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders Jan. 11 in Ottawa, the MP for Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River believes some progress has been made concerning the federal government’s efforts to establish a further commitment to First Nations people.

“This was a follow up meeting to one held in January 2012,” Clarke explained. “At that time, the prime minister made a commitment to look at funding. In the meantime, new legislation, such as Bill C-27 (the First Nations Financial Transparency Act), was introduced. The government is determined to continue looking at economic opportunities, comprehensive land claims, as well as improving living standards and strengthening treaty relations with First Nations.”

The buildup to last week’s meeting received much hype, particularly because of Attawapiskat First Nation chief Theresa Spence’s decision not to participate. Although she embarked on a hunger strike as a form of protest to secure a meeting about treaty issues with the Crown, Spence chose not to meet with Harper when she learned Governor General David Johnston would not be in attendance. Her sentiments were echoed by Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation chief Richard Ben, who was in Ottawa at the time of the meeting.

“I didn’t actually attend the meeting,” Ben said. “There was a group of us who boycotted it.”

Ben was among many other First Nations members disappointed in the government’s request to meet with no more than 30 chiefs when close to 400 converged on the capital in a showing of support.

“We didn’t want everyone to stand up and have a say, we just wanted to be acknowledged,” Ben said. “To limit it to only 30 chiefs was a bit of an insult. The governor general also should have been there. These treaties were not signed with the government. They were signed with the Crown and the governor general represents the Crown.”

Meanwhile, Clarke went on to claim the Conservative government has a positive track record in terms of what it’s already done to benefit aboriginal communities.

“The government has been very active working with First Nations across Canada,” he said. “Since 2006, we’ve been able to settle 82 specific land claims while the Liberals were only able to settle around 10 during their 13 years in power. We’ve also invested $1.7 billion on education for First Nations students.”

Clarke, who is of First Nations descent, has also been instrumental in ongoing native affairs since introducing a Private Member’s Bill to the House of Commons last summer designed to amend aspects of the Indian Act. While the main thrust behind nationwide Idle No More protests in recent weeks has been alleged abuses of treaty rights, Clarke’s Private Member’s Bill has also been targeted. While unopposed to freedom of speech, Clarke hopes the protests continue to remain peaceful.

“During these protests, I’ve seen a lot of union flags,” he said. “My personal belief is, if unions are influencing First Nations, it could lead to trouble. We’ve seen unions involved with student protests in the past, which led to riots. I’m afraid, with that sort of influence, it could only take the actions of one person – aboriginal or not – for someone to get hurt. I hope organizers of these protests take into account the possibility of civil litigation if they’re unable to ensure people’s safety.”

As for last Friday’s meeting, Assembly of First Nations national chief Shawn Atleo and the prime minister have agreed to meet again in a few weeks for further dialogue.

“It could be good, but there’s a difference between saying and doing,” Ben said.

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One Response to “MLA Clarke responds to First Nations meeting, protests”
  1. Andre says:

    It appears that Clark is just another puppet for Harper just like his buddy Patrick Brazeau and does not care for the rights of his own people. It also appears that he is nothing but another “sellout” that will do anything to please his white chief in Ottawa.

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