The Crown-First Nations gathering in Ottawa was a classic example of a failure to communicate.
Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and National Chief Shawn Atleo recognized the history of Canada’s relations with its First Nations as a register of crimes and misfortunes. Both paid lip-service to the idea of unlocking the potential of aboriginal Canadians.
But they talked past each other when it came to moving forward.
The Prime Minister said he has learned from the past but wants to focus on the future. Mr. Atleo spent most of his speech re-fighting old battles by pointing out how Canada has failed to live up to its treaty obligations.
Mr. Harper is likely the most pragmatic leader this country has seen since Sir John A. Macdonald, and his interest is in practical solutions that can have impact on the ground.
He has little interest in being diverted into what he called the “talk shop” that has bogged down governance issues for decades.
“Our goal is self-sufficient citizens and self-governing communities,” he said. He offered no “grand schemes” to achieve those ends, but promised “practical, incremental and real change” by introducing new legislation and procedures.
“To move forward, to reset the relationship, [we must] learn from the past but focus on the future,” he said.