The Assembly of First Nations expressed surprise and not a few reservations after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) about development for Indigenous Peoples without consulting any.
“Any initiatives aimed at Indigenous peoples must respect Indigenous rights, treaties, human rights and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Bellegarde said in a statement on June 28, right after the accord was announced. “We are concerned that First Nations have not had the opportunity to provide input on the Accord announced today. We fully expect to get more details immediately so we can assess the accord and consider the next steps. We are pushing for sustained action to close the gap and ensure respect for indigenous rights, and it is essential that First Nations be directly involved in any agreement of this kind from the beginning.”
The two governments did not release details, only to say that “both countries have also agreed to share more information about how we can improve the health and prosperity of our Indigenous Peoples,” according to a news release from Trudeau’s office.
Once President Barack Obama arrived on June 29, the United States chimed in as well, phrasing any development in terms of economics. Together the three leaders announced a new organization, the North American Center for Collaborative Development, which will “pursue joint research and foster exchanges between academics and others on climate change, energy, manufacturing, economic integration, and indigenous peoples,” the White House said in a statement. The other efforts are structured around education.
“The United States, through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program and the Fulbright Specialist Program, will bring together indigenous youth and promote linkages between North American higher education institutions on projects that provide indigenous youth with opportunities to travel, engage with each other, and hone their professional skills,” the White House said. “Mexico joins the United States and Canada in the Let Girls Learn initiative to increase educational opportunities for adolescent girls by increasing enrollment in their Escuelas Mexico Program, which provides opportunities for girls to attend school throughout the hemisphere.”
The three governments did not release many details, but couched other references to Indigenous Peoples in terms of resource management and energy reform. The vagueness of the statements had the AFN wary.
“While details are limited, the federal government announced today that Canada and Mexico have agreed to an accord that is focused on social and economic development of Indigenous peoples in the two countries,” the AFN said in its statement. “There are commitments to include First Nations and Indigenous peoples in the work that will take place under the accord. AFN National Chief Bellegarde said the AFN is studying the announcement and will be seeking more information to share with First Nations as it becomes available.”