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Nepinak boycotts meeting with visiting federal officials; other chiefs may attend

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It looks as though a stopover today and tomorrow for federal officials to meet in Winnipeg with aboriginal chiefs on education reforms will be pretty rocky.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leader Derek Nepinak flat out refused to be in the same room as the authors of the bill for Ottawa’s cornerstone to education reform of reserve schools, in a letter he wrote to reject an invitation to the event.

On Wednesday some Manitoba’s aboriginal policy advisors called for protests on Facebook to greet the consultation instead.

At the same time, some chiefs are expected to attend the consultation meeting set for the downtown Radisson Hotel Wednesday morning.

Lake Manitoba Chief Barry Swan led a protest Tuesday with 33 school kids from the Interlake First Nation to emphasize the opposition of Manitoba chiefs to the stopover.

In his one-page letter, Nepinak states he doesn’t trust the prime minister or the Harper government to treat aboriginal people fairly on any issue, including this one.

"A federal legislative exercise on education was overwhelmingly rejected by chiefs in assembly (formal meetings) at the Assembly of First Nations in October and again in December," Nepinak said. "The federal government’s efforts to bypass… chiefs from across Canada and here in Manitoba is disrespectful."

There’s no point in attending, he said.

The rejection is no surprise since AMC served notice it was no longer taking part in federal consultation meetings earlier this winter.

A year ago, Ottawa joined forces with the Assembly of First Nations to lay out a process to overhaul the broken reserve school system. The result was the First Nations Education Act that Ottawa is touring to First Nations in a 12-week cross country tour of seven cities, including Halifax, Saskatoon, Vancouver, Quebec City, Thunder Bay, Calgary and Winnipeg.

Following the tour, the draft bill would then be sent down the standard pipeline for the passage of new legislation in Parliament.

The school reforms also come at a fractious period of relations, particularly with Prairie First Nations chiefs, led by Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and the AFN led by National Chief Shawn Atleo.

Atleo's influence was questioned in January before a contentious Jan. 11 meeting with the Prime Minister. Right after New Year's, Atleo wrote to Harper asking for an urgent treaty meeting with chiefs, Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.

The request came amid the growing Idle No More movement and the ongoing liquid-fast protest of Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence. Harper responded by agreeing to a meeting without Johnston at the prime minister's office building, with limited room for chiefs to attend.

Spence warned she would not participate without Johnston and dozens of chiefs from across the country backed Spence and refused to participate. In the end, Manitoba was one of three jurisdictions that had nobody at the meeting.

The AFN is the national lobby organization representing more than 600 First Nations across Canada. AMC represents Manitoba’s 63 First Nations.

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