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OTTAWA – The Assembly of First Nations has outlined what it views as the key election 2019 priorities for federal parties and candidates. Among the top commitments: treating climate change as a national priority, and affirming First Nations' laws.

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde unveiled the priorities at the National Press Theatre. He said that while the plan to improve the lives of Indigenous people and their relationship with the federal government is ambitious, the election is happening at "a turning point" in Canadian history.

With the election campaign kicking off by Sunday at the latest— and official party promises and platform releases following soon after — Bellegarde said that Indigenous people should have a role in setting the agenda for the next government.

"This is our time to commit to action to save our planet and ourselves, to commit to ensure all children are equipped to build a prosperous future, and to commit to a promise that health, education, the economy and justice systems will work for everyone," Bellegarde said in a statement accompanying the priority document.

The 16-page document, "Honouring Promises," outlines a wide range of commitments that they say federal political parties must make in order to be able to work together with First Nations. Some of the must-dos have timeframes attached of within one or two years, others are to be tackled within a four-year mandate.

The first priority outlined is making tackling climate change a national priority within the next year. This is accompanied by a request that First Nations are included when decisions are made about spending the revenue generated by the carbon tax, and affirming Treaty rights, especially when it comes to major natural resource projects. The latter has been an ongoing point of contention, particularly with the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion that some Indigenous groups are now challenging in federal court.

There are also a series of priorities focused on upholding First Nations law and supporting self-governance and self-determination. Among these desired commitments: creating a federal Treaty Commissioner position, and reviewing all existing and new policies and legislation to ensure they are consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and First Nations' Inherent and Treaty Rights.

“We want sweeping reforms to Canada’s legal system, so it truly becomes a just system and not just a court of laws,” Bellegarde said.

Other commitments the AFN is looking for from the next government include:

  • Including First Nations leadership in ministerial-level meetings;
  • Launching revenue sharing talks and more opportunities for economic development;
  • Support increasing federal procurement from First Nations businesses;
  • Funding community and essential infrastructure;
  • Repealing and replacing existing drinking water legislation to ensure all have access;
  • Establishing a restorative justice system to end the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system, while increasing Indigenous judicial appointments; and
  • Implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, and the MMIWG Calls to Justice.

Bellegarde said that over the last four years under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government, there was "significant progress," citing things like First Nations language and child welfare protections; and work towards a new fiscal relationship, but that "there is much work to do."

While not be endorsing a leader or a party, the AFN is looking to influence every contender's platform to make sure that the commitments are in writing before voters head to the polls. He said he will be encouraging First Nations people in Canada to get out to vote, assess what each candidate is proposing, and evaluate what has, or has not been accomplished to-date.

Bellegarde wouldn’t wade into which parties he thinks are, or will propose, satisfactory campaign platforms, saying that he has good working relationships with all current leaders.

"We have to hold their feet to the fire," Bellegarde said. "Some are more robust in their positions right now, and more clear, and others aren't. Doesn't mean they can't change, so we just have to keep pushing them.

Though, citing the Conservatives as an example Bellegarde said that Leader Andrew Scheer has 12 reserves within his Saskatchewan riding, and that while "some of their policies aren't as progressive as they can be, it's my job to help him [Scheer] get to where he should be."

The AFN issued a similar document in 2015 called "Closing the Gap," with the goal of setting the agenda and ensuring all candidates understand Indigenous priorities. The AFN also targeted 51 swing ridings that it was targeting during the last federal campaign, ultimately seeing 54 Indigenous candidates run, and 10 elected.

Bellegarde said he wants to see Indigenous candidates running for all parties, in order to see the number around key decision-making tables grow.

"I think we can have an impact, no question," Bellegarde said.

As candidate nominations stand, the Green Party currently has the most self-identified Indigenous candidates. Of the 308 candidates it has, 16 are Indigenous. The NDP has 15 Indigenous candidates so far, with 205 candidates set to be nominated by the end of the day Monday. The Liberals have 14 Indigenous candidates out of 297 and the Conservatives have seven of their full roster of 338. The People's Party said that it is not keeping demographic data on its candidates, of which there are 316.