Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Aboriginal leaders call for action on legislation

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A raft of parliamentary legislation will alter the lives of First Nations people, but most status Indians and aboriginal people know nothing about it.

First Nations leaders said Thursday they have had little or no say in any of the legislation despite constitutional guarantees to consult and accommodate them.

Manitoba's three grand chiefs took on a list of pending laws Thursday with a lot of tough talk at a meeting in Winnipeg.

The meeting was a clear effort to prime the pump for an Assembly of First Nations special chiefs meeting in Gatineau, Que., Dec. 4-6.

Chiefs will gather across the Ottawa River from Parliament, and Manitoba chiefs want to steer the talk into a national action plan. They said the goal is to counter a federal Conservative agenda they believe undercuts a generation of political and legal gains for First Nations.

Thursday, they issued a call to action to First Nations people on and off reserves.

They urged status Indians to take a closer look at the political process that governs their lives and take action to stop what they don't want.

But they stopped short of specifying what forms that show of force could take. Chiefs chose their words carefully; the word "blockade" wasn't mentioned.

"The option for us is very clear: We have to make our own laws and ignore Parliament," said Ovide Mercredi, a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

He told the audience, which included all three of the province's grand chiefs and their political staff, that the bills this year and last year are piling up against First Nations.

Now it's time for some push-back, Mercredi said to applause.

In an interview afterward, he said there's little the country can do if First Nations unite and decide to rule their own destinies.

"Parliament can pass all the laws they want," Mercredi said. "We'll just ignore them. They'll try to enforce them, but who's going to do that? The RCMP?"

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said leaders follow parliamentary rules every time there's a new law or policy.

And the political process has gotten First Nations nowhere, he said.

The AMC, which represents 63 Manitoba First Nations, faces deep federal funding cuts at a time when relations are fractious between some First Nations and Ottawa.

"I'm tired of seeing our people run over by all of this," Nepinak said.

If First Nations ignored treaties the way Ottawa does, the legal foundation for Western Canada's property laws and resource industries would be thrown into chaos, he said.

Nepinak said it's time First Nations people step up and tell their leaders what other measures to take up.

Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Murray Clearsky, who represents 31 southern Manitoba First Nations, also urged action.

"I'd like to see all Anishinaabe people come together and take a strong stand... We've got to do something quick," he said.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper, who represents 30 northern First Nations, said Manitoba will join up with a growing popular movement against Ottawa.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 30, 2012 A11

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