Former PMs, First Nations leaders seek to ease tensions between groups

Former prime ministers and aboriginal leaders are joining forces in a bid to ease tensions between aboriginal and non-aboriginal groups.

OTTAWA — Former prime ministers and aboriginal leaders are joining forces in a bid to ease tensions between aboriginal and non-aboriginal groups.

A declaration calling for a new partnership was signed this morning by a coalition of First Nations and political leaders.

The goal of Canadians for a New Partnership is to achieve better living conditions, education, and economic opportunities for aboriginal groups — but first everyone must pledge to work together, the group says.

“Then, and only then, will we enjoy a foundation of trust sturdy enough to overcome the shame of historic harm and contemporary injustices and realize future possibility,” the declaration says, according to the Canadians for a New Partnership website.

“The New Partnership is neither deluded about past challenges nor deflated about present circumstances. We believe that hope must be created with the establishment of new trust and enthusiasm.”

Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin and former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark are among those backing the new initiative.

They are being joined by former leaders of the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, as well as former auditor general Sheila Fraser and Justice Murray Sinclair, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Both Martin and Clark have become increasingly involved in aboriginal issues in the years since they were prime ministers.

But relations between the current federal government and aboriginal groups have hit several major roadblocks since 2008.

That was the year Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued his landmark apology for the treatment of First Nations at residential schools.

The apology was seen as an opportunity to close the gap between the two sides, but conflicts over resource development, education and missing and murdered aboriginal women have soured that relationship in recent years.

The new organization, which as been set up as a corporation, is receiving funding from private foundations, McGill University and the International Boreal Conservative campaign, according to the organization’s website.

Among other activities, it intends to run speakers’ bureau and a national lecture series, the website says.

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