By Austin Josephson

First Nations Chiefs came together in the Assembly of First Nations Special Chief’s Assembly held December 6 to 8 in Gatineau, Quebec, to share ideas and discuss advancing reconciliation on a variety of issues affecting First Nations across Canada.

A highlight of the first day was a ceremony honouring Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip,  for his efforts in reconciliation and building positive relationships between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Canadians.

Downie who has been battling cancer, released a solo music project entitled Secret Path. This project honours the life and memory of Chanie Wenjack, a 12 year old who died in 1966 after running away from a Residential School.

“Soon in a few days, a couple weeks, there’s 150 years that Canada wants to celebrate, and I will personally then celebrate the birth of our country,” said Downie during the ceremony. “Celebrate the next 150 years. It’ll take 150 years or seven generations, to heal the wound of the residential school. To become a country and truly call ourselves Canada, means we must become one. We must walk down a path of reconciliation from now on. Together and forever. This is the first day of forever. The greatest day of my life, the greatest day of all of our lives. Thank-you.”

During the ceremony Downie was honoured with a Lakota spirit name Wicapi Omani, which roughly translates to “Man who walks among the Stars.”

fnpa_2016-energy-forum_600x600-px-ad“(The community) felt that he done great work on advocating for Residential School survivors and just about a whole highlight to our people,” said Donnie Spiedel, the elder who gifted Downie with his name.

“To show acts of what reconciliation could look like,” says Spiedel. “I think being a national body or national organization of First Nations people in the country, being able to show this on a national stage. It was very important,” said Spiedel.

“Here we have a highly recognized, respected [individual] and admired by millions and millions of people across this country and internationally. And for him to say what he did there during the concert and during our ceremony the other day, pretty significant. Because it says we have to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples deserve that quality of life. Indigenous people deserve to heal from the injustices of Residential schools and 60s [scoop],” said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations  (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron.

Issues dealt with at the conference not only looked at reconciling the past, but at finding ways to work together in the future. One area of concern is the pipeline. For some, the pipeline symbolizes destruction of the environment and the well-being of Indigenous peoples whose lands and waters are sacred, but others see the pipeline as opportunity.

“We recognize and respect that some of our bands are involved with the pipelines and that’s their authority and jurisdiction to enter into partnerships with oil and gas industry,” said Chief Cameron. “However that said, the majority of our bands are not benefitting from industry which oil and gas and pipeline are. That’s reality. It’s not doing enough. It’s not improving the lives of our people.”

The AFN Youth Council also voiced their concerns. The council has 20 members who represent First Nations youth from each of the 10 AFN regions.

“The AFN Youth council made a statement, and they totally oppose the pipelines” said Chief Cameron.

Their statement, as quoted by Chief Cameron, said, ‘“We cannot survive on money. Money can’t feed us. Money can’t provide drinking water. Their message is that protection of sacred lands and waters are more important than making money.”’

Chief Cameron also shared what happened during the most recent meeting with the Federal Ministers.

“All sectors were discussed. Education, health, mental wellness, justice, housing. The list goes on and on so all good comments, good commitments, good meetings. For them to come and meet with us and discuss with us one on one, face to face it helps. Now it’s a matter of implementation,” he said.

“Implementation of all the commitments that have been coming from the Federal government. For education, for housing, for justice, for the health secretariat. A lot of issues and a lot of work has to get done to improve all the advice for Indigenous peoples but more importantly we need positive results. We don’t want to lose any more youth to suicide. That has to happen but also the relationship with the Governor General of Canada David Thompson has been one of my focuses. To get him to come and meet with our treaty leaders, our treaty Elders, back at the FSIN and in Saskatchewan. Where the true treaty talks and negotiations and discussions will happen.”

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