National protests sparked by the opposition of some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to a pipeline project in B.C. are also sparking debate in Conservative circles about the party’s own relationship to Indigenous communities.
Though the main focus is on resolving the current conflict, Conservatives need to start thinking about how they’ll lay groundwork for a relationship when their party next comes to power, said Jamie Schmale, the party’s Crown-Indigenous Relations critic.
“For me, and others within the caucus, they do see an opportunity to have a bigger conversation about First Nations and how we can all prosper together,” he said.
Earlier this year, Schmale invited several Indigenous leaders to brief Conservative MPs and senators ahead of the return of the House of Commons for the winter session, as part of a chance to begin a dialogue.
He acknowledged tensions between his party and Indigenous groups have simmered for years. Current leader Andrew Scheer was once booed by First Nations chiefs for failing to differentiate himself from his predecessor, Stephen Harper.
With the Conservative leadership race underway, Schmale said he is looking for what candidates have to offer on the file.
“The next conversation needs to be where do we go from here, how do we provide off ramps to those communities that want to get away from the Indian Act,” he said.
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