OTTAWA – As the Assembly of First Nations and a group of rival chiefs held concurrent meetings Wednesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau accused the governing Conservatives of sowing divisions among aboriginal people.
“One of the things that this current Conservative government has done very well, because of its lack of movement on those issues, has been encouraging a splintering and a division within First Nations communities,” Trudeau said.
“I think that it’s something this is perhaps even a willed effect of the Conservative approach.”
Trudeau is in Whitehorse for the annual gathering of the Assembly of First Nations, which is taking place as other chiefs gather in Onion Lake, Sask. That separate National Treaty Gathering could give rise to a rival aboriginal organization.
One of the key architects of the splinter group is Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. On Wednesday, Nepinak once again accused the Assembly of First Nations of not doing enough to improve treaties with the federal government.
He told the Onion Lake gathering that First Nations must stand up to the federal government and companies trampling over their traditional lands.
The conflicting schedules of the Whitehorse and Onion Lake meetings point to a schism between aboriginal factions that has only widened since this winter’s Idle No More protests.
Some chiefs and First Nations people criticized AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo for agreeing to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper in January as the protest movement took centre stage across Canada.
A faction of chiefs, including Nepinak and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, wanted the Harper meeting to take place on their terms and on their turf. They boycotted the meeting and protested in the streets outside the Prime Minister’s Office.
But Trudeau said the Conservatives are mostly to blame for the rift among aboriginal groups.
“There is a deliberate attempt to pick and choose whoever is willing to sign on the dotted line first rather than work with all people,” the Liberal leader said.
“It’s obviously in this government’s playbook to try and divide people as much as possible rather than work together.”