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Land Rights, Missing Women, Education Are Top Topics as AFN Chief Meets Prime Minister

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Bellegarde meets Prime Minister Stephen Harper; talks missing women, land rights and education.
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Newly elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Perry Bellegarde reached out to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on January 28, initiating the dialogue he had alluded to during his campaign.

Bellegarde outlined First Nation priorities and invited Harper to the AFN’s July National Assembly in Montreal, the national chief told The Globe and Mail.

“It was basically a meeting to open lines of communication and, at the end of the meeting, there was agreement that our officials will continue to meet, to discuss priorities and what can be achieved moving forward,” Bellegarde said.

On the list of topics were land claims resolution and treaty implementation, The Globe and Mail noted, especially in relation to the implications of the Supreme Court of Canada’s favorable ruling on Tsilhqot’in land rights last year.

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Bellegarde also pressed for the need to convene a national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and alter or scotch the First Nations Education Act to give Indigenous Peoples the control they need over the process. Revitalizing languages and closing the gap between aboriginals and mainstream Canada rounded out the list, according to The Globe and Mail.

The chat, which lasted less than an hour, was "a very positive first meeting,” said Jason MacDonald, Harper’s chief spokesperson, to CBC News.

"The prime minister stated that Bill C-33 will not move forward," Bellegarde said in a letter to national chiefs quoted by CBC News, in reference to the education act. “We agreed that there is much work to do to achieve the changes needed to substantively improve First Nations well-being."

Bellegarde has also met with the leaders of Canada’s to other major political parties, New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Tom Mulcair, head of the official Opposition, and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. The national chief wants the AFN executive leadership to meet with cabinet ministers as well, he told CBC News.