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In July, I wrote to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Chair of the Council of the Federation for 2017, with a basic request for structured engagement. I sought a half-day on the Council of the Federation meeting agenda for a discussion between Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Assembly of First Nations, the Metis National Council and the Council of the Federation to develop a structured, coordinated and meaningful process for engagement between Indigenous peoples and provinces and territories. The purpose of such an engagement process would be to identify and coordinate action on shared priorities such as housing, health and wellness, and infrastructure.

The current structure of the Council excludes a space for Indigenous leaders to participate, limiting our ability to co-develop constructive solutions to shared challenges at the provincial and territorial levels. Indigenous leaders have never been invited to participate in the Council of the Federation. Since the Council of the Federation was formed in 2003, Indigenous leaders have been invited to what amounts to no more than an informal conversation during a side meeting where the primary outcome is a group photo of leaders against a scenic background.

If we as Canadians are truly committed to reconciliation and empowering Indigenous communities, the Council must adapt to include a space for Indigenous leaders to have a voice. Inuit Nunangat, our homeland in Canada, spans two territories (Nunavut and the Northwest Territories) and two provinces (Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador). It represents more than one-third of Canada’s landmass and half its coastline. We co-manage this area in partnership with the federal government and Inuit regional organizations and governments have a critical function within their regions that implicate provincial and territorial governments. Despite our small population size, Inuit have an enormous part to play in Canada.

Full and effective participation by Inuit in intergovernmental forums, including the Council of the Federation, are necessary to advance a coordinated and cooperative approach to improving outcomes for Inuit and all Canadians. Asking to meet formally with Premiers on issues of joint priority that we identify together is not the same as asking for province-like powers. I do not expect to be treated like a Premier. However the reality is that progress on reconciliation can only be achieved if governments demonstrate openness to new ways of doing things.

We know that innovative and progressive approaches to partnership are possible. Together with federal ministers, Inuit leaders are members of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, formed in February to identify and take action on our shared priorities. Our partnership with the federal government through this Committee recognizes that we will only achieve success if both sides are willing to take risks and pursue a new way of working together.

Reconciliation requires more from governments than an informal side meeting and a photo opportunity with Indigenous leaders. This year and in previous years, the Council of the Federation did not allow for the conversations necessary to explore what a meaningful approach to partnership could look like between provinces, territories, and Indigenous peoples. Inuit stand ready to have that conversation.

Natan Obed
National Inuit Leader and President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami