When CBC interviewed Shawn Atleo, Chief of the Canadian First Nations, last night and heard him say that the meeting between the Prime Minister and First Nations leaders today could be both "pragmatic and ambitious" and then played a clip of the Prime Minister speaking with Peter Mansbridge just a week ago in which the PM said there would be no big words and no big announcements from this meeting, any observer paying attention had to come away from the two video clips shaking a head at the disparity between the two sets of expectations.
And there have beeen negotiations to plan for this meeting for at least the last YEAR!
Have both parties actually been in the same room during those year-long negotiations?
Have both parties had the same interpreters using the same language in those meetings?
Have the agendas of those previous meetings not made clear the desperate and long-standing lack of trust between the federal government (the Crown) and First Nations?
Did no one negotiating for either party point out the difference between "incrementalism" (Harper's chosen approach to all files, except those he wishes to explode) and "ambition" the preferred moniker of Mr. Atleo...they are mutually exclusive, in the sense that those expecting further discussions, as the PM indicates in today's media will be satisfied merely with the occasion to meet, while those with "ambitious" motivations will seek more, much more, from the meetings.
What would re-establish trust between the Crown and the First Nations?
Would a federal government commitment to scrap the Indian Act, seen by First Nations leaders and people as a patronizing, colonizing and controlling piece of legislation that perpetually finds First Nations as "child" to the federal government's "parent", to use the Eric Berne Games People Play analogy, be enough? First Nations people, and their leaders naturally seek an "adult-to-adult- relationship with the federal government and some sign that such a relationship is even contemplated by Harper and his cabinet is not emerging from the printed or spoken words put out in advance of the meeting today.
Would a commitment to eliminate the disparity between the per-student dollar spent on non-aboriginal students and on aboriginal students begin to re-establish trust?
It was 1968 when then Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Jean Chretien, spoke eloquently about the desire of First Nations to govern their own affairs, to be treated as "adults" in the Canadian context.
That was 44 years ago. Little if anything has changed in those four decades.
Don't look for substantive changes in the next 44 years either.
This relationship is so complex, and so intractable and so deeply embedded in distrust and inaction and bafflegab that it would take a law firm of at least 1000 highly trained and even more highly skilled legal experts to untangle and to re-establish a healthy foundation for the next century, and their work would all be behind closed doors, with only a final announcement for the public on complete agreement, if and when it were achieved.