At this week’s summit meeting between First Nations chiefs and the prime minister of the rest of Canada, the two solitudes talked past one another.

Grand Chief Shawn Atleo spoke of another kind of relationship, one informed by an aboriginal understanding of things. He even brought the wampum belt agreements of the 1700s, made long before the Indian Act and residential schools would corrupt the future.

The prime minister spoke respectfully and hopefully of “shared goals and principles” and giving aboriginal people “the tools they need . . . and allow them to move forward.” But those words are rooted in a Western understanding of how things ought to be done. They mean different things to people who are different…

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