Vice Chair Elaine Chicoose, PM, Chair Ed, AFN Bellegarde copy

File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council Vice Chair Elaine Chicoose, PM Trudeau, FHQTC Chair Ed Bellegarde, and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde. Photo credit: Brad Bellegarde.

Fort Qu’Appelle SK – Hundreds of people gathered at the Treaty 4 Governance Centre for what some chiefs are calling a truly historic event. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requested a meeting with all chiefs of the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) as his first order of business for his visit to Saskatchewan.

“It was the first of its kind from my perspective,” said Chief Mike Starr of the Starblanket First Nation. “No prime minister has ever met with us at Treaty 4 Governance Centre.”

Immediately following his arrival, PM Trudeau stood and watched the Paskwa Drum Group sing in the lobby and was quickly ushered into a boardroom that was filled with chiefs from each reserve as well as the tribal council, the Assembly of First Nations and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN).

“We were able to present our issues in our communities, we may have not had the same issues, but all of our issues were relevant to each other,” said Starr. “Housing, education, specific claims and what needs to be done to move them a lot faster.”

Approximately 100 delegates from FHQTC reserves patiently waited for PM Trudeau to make his announcement in the main tipi of the governance centre.

Carrying the Canadian flag, PM Justin Trudeau joined chiefs and youth from FHQTC in a grand entry style entrance.

“We had a good respectful and productive conversation,” said Trudeau. “I think it’s critically important that politicians take the time to listen and I don’t want to pretend that any of us have the answers to the challenges facing Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

When questioned about addictions, depression and suicide for First Nations people and the obstacle of federal and provincial jurisdiction, Trudeau said, “For too long there has been shrugs and pointing, ‘that’s a different order of government’ and ‘that’s someone else’s responsibility’, it’s time we all took collective responsibility for the people who share this land.”

The meeting and visit to the place where Treaty 4 was entered into in 1874 represented the commitment to building a nation-to-nation relationship, and Edmund Bellegarde, Tribal Chairperson is confident that Trudeau is not all talk.

“PM Trudeau engaged at a historic level with our First Nations leadership here at Treaty 4,” he said. “The foundation of the message delivered was to truly move forward and recognize the inherent and treaty rights of the Indigenous peoples of this land.”

The closed-door meeting provided chiefs an opportunity to be an important part of building a new relationship with the federal government. Bellegarde believes that First Nations leaders are in a position to finally be at the table.

“Indigenous people can (finally) take their rightful place in the constitutional frameworks and foundations of this nation, to be recognized on that nation-to-nation level,” he said.

The meeting and visit to Treaty 4 Governance Centre was also historic because Trudeau requested to meet with the Chiefs before he met with Premier Brad Wall, a decision that Bellegarde considers to be a step towards reconciliation.

“The thing that is difference about this prime minister and all former government officials is he’s backed it up with action and presence in our territory where Treaty 4 was entered into many years ago.” he said.

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