'Where is your leader,' chiefs say to politicians at AFN general assembly


About a thousand people are attending the Assembly of First Nations general assembly in Fredericton, but it's some of the people who aren't there that's the source of a lot of discussion.

Only one federal political party leader has shown up and, with an election three months away, that's disappointed many in attendance.

"Where is your leader? Your leader should be here to talk to our leaders here, there is an election coming up," a speaker said to Guy Caron, who is at the meeting representing the federal NDP.

"The leader Mr. Scheer? He hasn't got the time of day for our First Nations," said a Saskatchewan chief to Cathy McLeod, who is there representing the federal Conservative Party of Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also not planning an appearance, but Green party leader Elizabeth May did show.

"I raise my hands to you," May said. "It's an honour to be here."

Each spoke of their party's platforms, how they could impact Indigenous people across Canada, but National Chief Perry Bellegarde says this wasn't about influencing the hundreds of chiefs that are here, but rather informing them of what each party stands for.

"We don't know what's going to happen Oct. 21, but all we know is, we've got to close that gap and work together to build a better country," Bellegarde said.

That's something New Brunswick chiefs feel New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs needs to be better at.

"The 15 First Nations of New Brunswick have put out a media release today and they'll be sending a letter to the government that you need to talk to us," said Natoageneg First Nation Chief George Ginnish.

The letter comes after chiefs say they learned through the media in May that the Higgs government passed an order exempting the Sussex area from the hydraulic fracturing moratorium.

Ginnish says it was without any consultation with First Nations.

"Why would you not do that if you want to have a better relationship?" Ginnish said. "If you want to work in cooperation, why would you not? Why would you not talk to us first? Why would you try and belittle it and make it sound like a small decision?"

The 15 communities say Higgs must meet his consultation obligations.

In a statement, Higgs acknowledges the province has a duty to consult, but says it needs a "better understanding of the consultation process."

Higgs says he has invited chiefs to meet and discuss natural gas development, and its potential -- as a next step though he hasn't said when.

While the federal election has dominated the last two days of discussions and sessions at the general assembly, on Thursday there will be further talk on residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, as well as a fisheries panel, before the assembly wraps up with closing ceremonies late in the afternoon.