FREDERICTON (GNB) – The provincial government has accepted that separate, one-on-one talks with First Nations about social programs should be conducted as group negotiations, with all the First Nations acting in partnership with each other.

All 15 First Nations confirmed on Wednesday they wanted to negotiate as a collective, rather than separately, and that they were unified in their approach to negotiations and in their focus on funding for social programs benefitting the First Nations and their members.

“To see all 15 First Nations come together like this is a very positive step,” said Premier Blaine Higgs. “They have a clear focus on ensuring negotiations benefit every community and everyone in those communities. It has always been my hope that all First Nations throughout the province would benefit equally, and this new proposal may, indeed, make this a reality.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn has confirmed acceptance of this request through a letter to the chiefs.

“As I have said to all of the chiefs, their new partnership, requesting a collective approach to negotiation, is something the government welcomes,” said Dunn. “I know all 15 First Nations met for two days this week and we are looking forward to getting the details on what they have identified as their needs. We understand that, generally, there is an overall need for further funding of social programs, such as housing, health care, social assistance and education. We look forward to hearing how much is needed, and in which communities that support is needed, from the First Nations themselves. The premier has confirmed that the province is prepared to provide the necessary funds through a new economic partnership focused on the housing, health care, social assistance and education needs in First Nation communities.”

Dunn said the government is committed to an Indigenous-led beginning to these negotiations, through the chiefs’ identification of needs, and looks forward to meaningful negotiations with the 15 First Nations collectively.