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The new head of the APN wants building bridges with conservatives

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The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak, at a press conference with the Federation of Sovereign Saskatchewan Indigenous Nations (FSIN), February 1, 2024.

The Canadian Press

The new head of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) wants to build bridges with the Conservative Party and its leader, Pierre Poilievre.

Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak hopes to avoid the tensions and frustrations that led to the creation of the Idle No More movement in 2012.

This legacy of the Stephen Harper era continues to influence how young activists and Indigenous leaders view the Conservative Party.

Ms. Woodhouse Nepinak is hopeful that Mr. Poilievre will agree to work with First Nations to avoid developing strained relations, as was the case during the Conservative years in power.

Young people were very angry with "the former conservative government". It is from this anger that the Idle No More movement was born. That's not the kind of relationship I want to build.

A quote from Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations

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Idle No More is an indigenous protest movement whose creation was brought about by the Jobs and Growth Act passed in 2012 by the Harper government.

Ms. Woodhouse Nepinak, who was elected leader of the AFN last December, remembers that First Nations leaders and the Conservative government simply did not have the same concerns.

Her meeting with Pierre Poilievre last month went well, she says.

She urged Mr. Poilievre to vote against Bill C-53 to recognize Métis governments in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The First Nations fear that this recognition will encroach on their own rights.

A spokesperson for Mr. Poilievre cannot say whether -he will attend the annual meeting of the AFN next July, nor will he address the chiefs in person. Since he was elected leader of the Conservative Party in September 2022, he has limited himself to recording words of welcome to AFN delegates.

Mr. Poilievre, however, met with leaders to promise them that a Conservative government would not meddle in their affairs, especially when it comes to fostering economic growth through the ;oil and gas exploitation.

A spokesperson for Conservative Leader Sebastian Skamski said Poilievre promised dozens of leaders to introduce legislation on sharing revenues from natural resources.

This plan will promote reconciliation from an economic point of view by giving First Nations the opportunity to earn more revenue from projects carried out on their territory, added Mr. Skamski.

This will allow them to regain control of their money, their decisions and their lives.

Relations between the First Nations and Mr. Poilievre did not begin on an encouraging basis. In December 2022, the Conservative leader's video was greeted with boos.

Scott McLeod, the chief of the Nipissing First Nation, was one of the disgruntled . However, today he wants to listen to conservatives.

My hopes are not huge, he admits. However, I'm willing to hear what they offer before throwing down the gloves.

According to him, the leaders fear that a Conservative government is trying to cut spending in areas that Indigenous people consider priorities.

Budgets are already tight. You will have to think long and hard before thinking about supporting any party other than the Liberals.

A quote from Scott McLeod, Chief of the Nipissing First Nation

Cindy Blackstock, an activist for the rights of First Nations children, believes it is still too early to see the future.

I always judge governments by what they do, not by what they say.

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