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Premiers meet for first time on First Nation ahead of annual conference
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, July 9, 2019 2:40PM CST
Last Updated Wednesday, July 10, 2019 8:02AM CST
BIG RIVER FIRST NATION, Sask. -- Many of Canada's premiers are meeting with Indigenous leaders at a First Nation ahead of their annual Council of the Federation gathering, an event that Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says is breaking new ground.
Leaders arrived by helicopter Tuesday at Big River First Nation, north of Saskatoon, and were greeted with handshakes by Indigenous leaders, including Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
Moe said it's the first time The Council of the Federation has visited a First Nation as part of its annual gathering.
The Assembly of First Nations is also attending the one-day event, ending a boycott that began in 2017. National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who led a procession with the premiers, says discussions will focus on the well-being of Indigenous children.
"This is history in the making," Bellegarde told a crowd gathered to watch traditional dancers and the presentation of gifts including moccasins to the premiers.
Bellegarde said he and the other leaders will discuss different issues during their meeting, but the most important one is child welfare because Bill C-92 recently passed, which clarified the jurisdiction of Indigenous people over family and child services in their communities.
"How do we work together now with the premiers ... all the leaders to deal with those 40,000 children in foster care," he said.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault told reporters before the meeting he's glad that Bellegarde has returned to the table.
"I think it's important because we want to listen to him and to the First Nations -- as many groups as possible. We know it's a kind of three-way negotiation between the federal government, the province and the First Nations so it's never easy," said Legault.
"We know we have to make improvements regarding services ... educational services, health care services ... so I'm very happy that he's here.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is not attending Tuesday's meeting and New Brunswick's Blaine Higgs is the only premier in attendance from Atlantic Canada.
However, the missing premiers did send representatives.
Legault said there's no way Quebec would have missed the meeting.
"We have many representatives of First Nations also in Quebec so we know it's a challenge."