First Nations leaders remain optimistic about next week’s meeting with top government figures despite the absence of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and the limited availability of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper said Friday his role will be largely ceremonial at the First Nations summit, leaving the bulk of the work to the 10 ministers and 50 government staff who will be on hand.

Harper had earlier downplayed the summit’s potential, stressing that the meeting will not be a “big bang” event with grand announcements and big funding boosts. The prime minister is said to favour an approach that starts with pilot projects and builds on small successes…

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