03/26/2013 06:30 EDT | Updated 05/26/2013 05:12 EDT

First Nations forum in Saskatchewan discussing how to implement treaties

SASKATOON - Aboriginals from across the country are meeting on the Whitecap Dakota reserve near Saskatoon to discuss how to move forward on implementing treaties.

The Assembly of First Nations national forum is a followup to a meeting in January with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper said at that meeting that there needs to be a high-level mechanism for making sure treaty rights and promises are kept.

Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations says there are different options to do that, but Harper has to have the political will to move forward.

Bellegarde says treaties were meant to be about peaceful co-existence and sharing land and resources.

He says honouring treaties would help address the poverty still found on many reserves.

"We're living in a country that's very rich," he said Tuesday. "Canada is rated No. 6 in terms of quality of life, while our quality of life is rated 63rd as indigenous people.

"We really need to look at treaty implementation, revenue sharing, to alleviate the socio-economic gap that exists."

Bellegarde suggests one way to ensure treaties are honoured might be to establish a national commissioner on behalf of the Crown or a senior cabinet committee that handles implementation.

He says another idea could be a department of Canada-First Nations relations.

Harper agreed in principle to put treaty talks and land claims on a fast track when he met with First Nations leaders Jan. 11. He also committed to further meetings, but rejected a pitch by the assembly to set up a national inquiry.

The prime minister agreed to the January meeting during the height of Idle No More aboriginal protests across Canada and a hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence in protest of living conditions on her reserve.

(CJWW, The Canadian Press)


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