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5 things to know about today's First Nations meetings

01/11/2013 09:09 EST | Updated 03/13/2013 05:12 EDT
A group of First Nations leaders has chosen not to attend today's meeting with the prime minister, saying the Governor General, who is slated to hold a "ceremonial" meeting later in the day, should be at the main event.

Here's a look at what is expected to happen – and what may not proceed as planned — on Friday.

What meetings are taking place?

The plan released earlier this week calls for two meetings.

- The first is a meeting between First Nations leaders and the prime minister. It will take place Friday afternoon in a massive building known as Langevin Block opposite Parliament Hill that houses the Prime Minister's Office and staff. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and National Chief Sean Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations are expected to open the meeting. Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan and Treasury Board president Tony Clement are scheduled to attend for the government side.

- The second meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at Rideau Hall. It's described as a "ceremonial" meeting between Governor General David Johnston and First Nations leaders.

A meeting with the Governor General has been a sticking point because even though Johnston's power is symbolic, aboriginal spokespeople have insisted that since original treaties were signed with the Crown, they must meet with a representative of the Queen.

Will First Nations attend the meetings?

It seems likely, though not at all certain, that the AFN leadership will attend. And although a number of Manitoba chiefs, who held a press conference Thursday at Ottawa's Delta Hotel, as well as other chiefs from Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, said the prime minister and governor general would have to meet them on their terms, at the hotel, it's not clear if they were part of the delegation that was expected at the Langevin or Rideau Hall meetings. Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence says she will not attend unless the prime minister and governor general are at the same meeting and is continuing her hunger strike.

Stan Louttit, Mushkegowak region grand chief, told Evan Solomon, host of CBC's Power & Politics, Thursday that chiefs are insisting that the prime minister and the Governor General must both be present at the same meeting, or they won't attend. The AFN responded by saying Louttit speaks for his region, not for the AFN.

Could the meetings fall through?

In a word: yes. But for now they appear to be going ahead: as of Friday morning, the Prime Minister's Office and aboriginal affairs minister's office are telling CBC News the meetings are still scheduled. The Assembly of First Nations has not given any official indication that Atleo and his delegation will not be meeting this afternoon, despite the statements by some chiefs that the meeting would be called off unless it happened on their terms.

Dene Chief Bill Erasmus, who sits on the AFN's executive, told CBC News on Thursday night that efforts to negotiate a compromise – perhaps moving to a bigger room with more chiefs in attendance or including the Governor General after all – would continue until noon on Friday. Erasmus said Atleo supports the idea of moving the venue, and Atleo has called for a meeting that would include the Governor General from the start.

Behind-the-scenes talks between senior chiefs and Harper staff have been going on all week. The situation remains fluid.

What do First Nations want?

Many of the goals expressed Thursday by the Manitoba chiefs and the AFN were overarching and amorphous: "fundamental transformation, implementing the treaty relationship on a treaty by treaty and and nation by nation relationship" and "new arrangements."

But there are also a number of specific suggestions. Among them:

- Rescinding the environmental provisions, such as changes to fisheries and to protection of rivers and streams in two omnibus budget bills.

- Action on missing aboriginal women, estimated by some to number over 2,000.

- A school in every native community.

- Mandatory education in all schools about treaty rights.

- Removal of the two per cent cap on aboriginal education funding.

- Mechanisms to eventually replace the Indian Act.

- Better arrangements about resource revenue sharing on aboriginal territories.

Will things change in the future?

On Thursday, Atleo called this moment "unlike any other in the history of our peoples." He used the phrases "fork in the road" and a "time to act." Although there are many influencing factors, one phenomenon Atleo and others reference often is the burgeoning aboriginal population and its new weight of educated, social media-savvy young people who are anxious and impatient for change.

But in the space of a few weeks, the loosely tied movement has helped force an unscheduled meeting with the prime minister and members of his cabinet, and an unprecedented (because it was due to pressure) meeting with the Governor General.

However, Bellegard, the AFN regional chief said Thursday, "We recognize that the meeting on Friday is just one day. There has to be a high level of commitment."

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