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Harper offers to meet with native leaders

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Richard J. Brennan | Ottawa Bureau
Published by thestar.com

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper has offered to sit down with Canada’s native leaders to discuss problems plaguing aboriginal communities across the country.

Harper’s Dec. 8 letter was made public at the end of a three-day Assembly of First Nations conference in Gatineau, Que., which put the spotlight on several issues, including the need for education, health care, housing and potable water.

In the letter to Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly, Harper said he would be open to participating in a proposed Crown-First Nation gathering.

“Regarding First Nation education, we agree that this matter is an important priority for advancement,” the Prime Minister said.

The meeting would be first of its kind for Harper since coming to office in January 2006 and a milestone in the relationship between Canada’s natives and the Conservative government.

“I am pleased that the Prime Minister has responded to our call to work in respectful partnership to craft concrete plans for progress on our priorities,” Atleo told his fellow leaders as the special chiefs’ assembly wrapped up Thursday.

“The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is now a reality, and First Nations are taking action to transform our communities, governments and our relationship with Canada,” he said.

Atleo concluded that Canada’s aboriginal communities are “no longer looking in the rearview mirror at the Indian Act but focusing our gaze forward on our vision of a brighter future founded on the principles of our treaties, our rights and the UN Declaration.”