OTTAWA -- The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is putting its differences with its national counterpart aside for a moment as it tries once again to secure a meeting with both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
Because last week's meeting between the Assembly of First Nations and Harper did not include Johnston, Manitoba chiefs were among dozens who boycotted the event. But AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said Friday he still hopes Harper will do the right thing.
"We will not bow down to prescriptive and predetermined agendas," he said Friday on Parliament Hill. "We will not bow down to the types of meetings we've had in the past with the prime minister. This has got to be on a nation-to-nation, treaty-territory-by-treaty-territory basis. We're calling on the prime minister to meet with us Jan. 24 on our terms."
Nepinak acknowledged there is still some discontent about what happened last week but said for now the priority of Manitoba chiefs is the health and safety of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and Cross Lake elder Raymond Robinson. Both have refused solid food for more than a month in a bid to get a meeting with Harper and Johnston and have the government repeal recent legislation affecting environmental regulations and the Indian Act.
Nepinak said it's true not all chiefs agree on how to proceed but said that's no different than provincial or municipal governments not all agreeing how to move on major issues.
He added there are no plans to challenge the leadership of AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, although he acknowledged that isn't completely out of the question at some point.
"I'm not saying we're out of the woods yet on that issue," he said. "Our priority is Chief Theresa Spence."
Nepinak and Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Murray Clearsky met with Spence and Robinson Friday and delivered a message from Manitoba elders that they had made their point and it was time to end their protest. "I myself asked her to come home to her family," he said.
However, Spence did not agree.
Nepinak said the location of another meeting isn't important as long as it's big enough to accommodate as many chiefs as want to attend. He noted during some of the negotiations for the Kelowna Accord in 2005 there were more than 500 chiefs present and said there is no reason that couldn't happen again.
A spokesman for Harper said the Prime Minister's Office had not yet received a request for a meeting and would respond if it came, but he also said the current plan is for Harper to meet next only with Atleo. There is no date set for that meeting and its timing may be delayed by the fact Atleo is on temporary medical leave.
Chiefs, including Nepinak, argue their treaties are with the Crown and therefore Johnston should have a part in any negotiations to address treaty implementation. The government says it has been given the authority to negotiate on the Crown's behalf and refused to agree to bring Johnston to the table.
The decision to ask for another meeting came at the behest of Manitoba chiefs and was approved by the AFN executive Jan. 17. No formal invitation has yet been issued, however.
The decision does not change the fact Manitoba is hosting a special chiefs assembly next week in Winnipeg, where it's expected chiefs will debate whether the AFN should continue to speak for Manitoba's treaties. Nepinak said that meeting will include discussions about "whether or not the AFN is the appropriate vehicle moving forward."
He said for a meeting with Harper and Johnston to end well, it would have to include some sort of commitment on the part of the government to resource revenue-sharing.
"It's not about standing in line for the results of someone else's hard work on our lands," said Nepinak.