First Nations leaders from across Canada gathered at the Loews Hotel Vogue in Montreal April 20 to talk business.

The message at the Convergence Gala was all about business opportunities, networking and partnerships with First Nations. The Gala featured a special presentation by the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine.

But first, Billy Two Rivers of Kahnawake said he was honoured to open the gathering and welcomed everyone to Mohawk Territory. “We have been welcoming newcomers for the past 500 years and we are still welcoming everybody and we want to be partners with you, be it in business or to develop better relationships with each other,” said Two Rivers.

Phil Fontaine then proceeded to give Gala guests a history lesson. He spoke of number of the treaties between First Nations and Europeans, for example, the covenant chain of 1692, the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701 and the first modern treaty, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

“This is an interesting time for First Nations,” said Fontaine. “We see a government that has committed, in very public ways, to ‘transformative change.’ Just over a year ago the Canada Aboriginal Peoples Roundtable was set in motion to bring First Nations, Inuit, and Métis issues to the forefront of the federal agenda. And First Nations would be guaranteed a ‘full seat at the table’ in all the key forums that direct the political life of the country.”

Fontaine talked about how the AFN recently presented a detailed plan aimed at recognizing and implementing First Nations government that goes far beyond an Indian Act band governance or delegated authority.

Fontaine emphasized the housing shortage faced by First Nations communities across Canada, and that we need to improve the quality of housing that’s already there. He also talked about how First Nations students cannot access funding for their post-secondary education and that statistics show First Nations are almost three decades behind the general Canadian population in terms of education levels.

“This is Canada’s workforce for tomorrow,” said Fontaine. “Our population is young and the rest of the population is aging. If Canada is going to remain competitive we need to reach out to this untapped pool of talent and make sure they’re healthy and educated. We cannot afford to lose another generation. Our future is Canada’s future and First Nations must have the opportunity to develop plans for their own futures, including the development of economic opportunity through the sharing of revenue resources, partnership with private sector partners and the building of solid First Nations economies. And when our communities benefit, the surrounding communities benefit and all of Canada is the better for it. We contribute to the economy; we build a better future and a stronger country for everyone.”