The grand chief of Grand Council Treaty #3 said he doesn’t understand the federal government’s move to withdraw from self-governance negotiations since, in his view, all the proper paperwork requested had been completed.
But Indian Affairs minister Robert Nault, also the MP for Kenora-Rainy River, said yesterday that he stands by his decision to halt negotiations since band council resolutions have not been provided and that the talks themselves were going nowhere.
“We are definitely stunned on the response from the government and Bob Nault,” Grand Chief Leon Jourdain said.
“This matter will affect his children and my children, all of our children,” Grand Chief Jourdain stressed.
“This particular decision will impact the future economy and society of the north, and it is not something to be taken lightly,” he warned.
In a release issued last week, Nault said the federal government had withdrawn from negotiations with Treaty #3 because it had failed to provide band council resolutions from their member First Nations supporting the framework agreement.
But Grand Chief Jourdain took issue with this reason for ending talks that have been ongoing since 1996.
“I don’t know what the agenda is. We’ve met all the requests,” he said, citing a document signed by 25 of the 28 chiefs encompassed by Treaty #3 that stated their support for the framework agreement.
“It is unprecedented that amount of chiefs signing,” he added.
While attending a signing ceremony for an education agreement-in-principle with eight Fort Frances area First Nations here Tuesday, Nault stood by the decision to break off negotiations.
He stated that talks could not continue without the band council resolutions he has requested.
“Band council resolutions are a legal requirement of the Government of Canada which recognizes, and has for over 100 years, now the supremacy of the First Nation itself,” Nault said.
“If chiefs are willing to sign a document, then there should be no difficulty in getting a band council resolution from their own communities,” he argued.
Nault said that if the framework agreement were to be completed, chiefs then would have to go back and ratify it in every community.
“What we are requiring, I don’t think, is a very large test of Treaty 3 to show that there is support,” Nault remarked.
“And if people, as you say the 25 [chiefs] are very supportive, I encourage them to go out and get the BCRs and once they do, then we’re prepared to sit down and have a discussion.”
Nault said the bigger issue behind halting negotiations with Treaty #3 is that, from Ottawa’s perspective, they seemed to have been going nowhere.
“Most importantly, the issue that confronts us with Treaty 3 is the lack of progress at the table on the framework agreement itself,” he said.
“We have made no progress at the table. We’re further apart now than when we started at the table in 1996/97 and, in fact, it’s our view that unless there’s a change in vision and direction, that we are not going to be able to close the gap in building a partnership. . . .”
Grand Chief Jourdain disagreed, stating progress had been made on a number of fronts and that Treaty #3 was committed to seeing talks continue.
“We made the decision not to be the ones to walk away from the table and we haven’t,” he said.
Grand Chief Jourdain said he continually has requested that Nault sit down to discuss the current situation, but has received no response.
Nault responded that if the grand chief had truly wanted a meeting, he would have picked up the phone and asked for one.
“It’s my position [that] if people are going to negotiate with the press, then there isn’t much of a need for a meeting is there,” he countered.
“The choice of doing this through [the press] was made by Leon Jourdain himself, and not by this minister, because I don’t negotiate in the public,” Nault added.
“There will be time for a meeting but at this point, I see no need in a meeting until the BCRs are sent to acknowledge the support of the individual First Nations are there,” Nault said.
For his part, Grand Chief Jourdain remained hopeful some sort of solution would be found soon.
“We can’t just give up,” he said. “A lot has to be done and a lot of people are motivated, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, for new relationships to be built that will have economic benefit in all of Northwestern Ontario.”
In related news, NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton this week wrote a letter to Nault asking him to reverse his decision “to unilaterally terminate negotiations on self-government with Treaty 3.”
“Treaty 3 has done an incredible amount of work over the years on the self-governance project,” Hampton wrote.
“Terminating the negotiation process now will result in the loss of goodwill and trust that were created, as well as the loss of the good work that has been done,” he added.
“Minister, I ask you again, reverse your decision to terminate negotiations. Reinstate the funding and get back to the negotiating table,” Hampton concluded.