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Indigenous chapter remains critical to NAFTA despite tight timeline: Bellegarde

OTTAWA – The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says an Indigenous chapter in NAFTA mustn’t be allowed to fall by the wayside, regardless of the challenges and tight timeline currently confronting negotiators.

Perry Bellegarde, who is also part of an advisory committee on the talks, tells The Canadian Press he wants officials to understand the importance of including the interests of Indigenous Peoples, noting they were left out of the original NAFTA negotiations in the 1990s.

Bellegarde spoke today at the National Congress of American Indians in Wisconsin to build support for the chapter among U.S. tribes.

He says it is critical that the issue of an Indigenous chapter be raised with the U.S. and Mexico at an appropriate time, noting other pressing issues — including supply management and auto parts — have already been raised.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has called for “progressive” elements to be included in a renegotiated NAFTA, such as stronger labour standards, tougher environmental protections and chapters on gender and Indigenous rights.

Ottawa has been exploring how provisions in the trade agreement can support Indigenous economic development while it also considers how to make the pact compliant with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.