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Native leaders must settle for 'pre-meeting' when first ministers gather

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    ... From: Russell Diabo To: Undisclosed-Recipient:; Sent: Monday, August 30, 2004 2:54 PM Subject: Native leaders must settle for pre-meeting when first
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      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Russell Diabo
      To: Undisclosed-Recipient:;
      Sent: Monday, August 30, 2004 2:54 PM
      Subject: Native leaders must settle for 'pre-meeting' when first ministers gather



      August 30, 2004

      Native leaders must settle for 'pre-meeting' when first ministers gather

      By SUE BAILEY

      OTTAWA (CP) - Native leaders won't be at the table and might not even make it into the room for high-stakes first ministers' talks on health care next month.

      Officials are still negotiating whether they'll have observer status, said Scott Reid, spokesman for Prime Minister Paul Martin.

      Instead, leaders of Canada's five aboriginal groups will be offered a televised half-day session with Martin and the premiers on Sept. 13 - a day before the first ministers meeting officially starts.

      It's an "unprecedented" chance for native leaders to make their case for better services, Reid said.

      It's also a sign of Martin's commitment to include aboriginal input on major concerns, he added. Native poverty fuels suicide epidemics, alarming diabetes rates and a full-blown HIV-AIDS crisis.

      Still, the invitation is a far cry from expectations Martin raised when he and native leaders met at an aboriginal roundtable in April.

      He promised native people "a full seat at the table" in their dealings with government.

      "No longer will we in Ottawa develop policies first and discuss them with you later," Martin said at the time. "This principle of collaboration will be the cornerstone of our new partnership."

      Getting the premiers to agree was a different matter, sources said. They cited concerns that full inclusion of native leaders would crowd an already heavy agenda on how to fix health care.

      "We are being very patient but we do recall that the prime minister promised a full seat at the table for aboriginal people," said an Assembly of First Nations official who did not want to be named.

      A pre-meeting may be acceptable if it's a first step to full inclusion, said the source.

      "But if it's just going to be us constantly being sidelined, we're concerned."

      Leaders of the assembly, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Metis National Council had joined forces to press for full status with their provincial and territorial counterparts.

      The Native Women's Association of Canada had also expected equal participation, said president Kukdookaa Terri Brown.

      But Dwight Dorey, head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples representing off-reserve residents, says an abbreviated chance to meet with first ministers is good enough for him.

      "To me, it's a matter of getting an audience with the premiers. It doesn't have to be encroaching upon their meeting."

      Dorey says the provinces, territories and Ottawa must hash out who's responsible for the thousands of aboriginal people who fall through the health-care cracks because they don't live on reserves.



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