Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First Nations chiefs demand to be heard

Try to force their way into the House

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OTTAWA -- Chiefs from Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan tried to force their way onto the floor of the House of Commons on Tuesday, demanding a chance to be heard by the government.

Some mild pushing and shoving occurred as security guards stepped up to block access to the chamber, and after about 30 seconds, the chiefs backed down.

But Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said the chiefs are putting the government on notice the time for Ottawa to make unilateral decisions about First Nations is over.

"We've tried other means of communicating with this government," he said. "This may not be the last time we do this."

About 250 chiefs and First Nations representatives left a special chief's assembly of the Assembly of First Nations across the river in Gatineau, Que., to bring their protest to Parliament Hill.

Chiefs are angry about a number of bills passed or introduced by the government or individual MPs that directly affect First Nations.

That includes legislation forcing chiefs and councillors to make their salaries public, a bill that would slowly eradicate the Indian Act and the omnibus budget bill, which amends a number of environmental protections and fisheries that affect First Nations.

The budget bill was being voted on in a marathon session Tuesday and is expected to pass third reading and be sent to the Senate today.

After being invited into the building by NDP MP Charlie Angus, the chiefs first confronted Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver in the foyer outside the House of Commons, peppering him with questions about the taking of resources on First Nations land.

When they tried to follow him into the chamber, they were stopped by a wall of security guards.

"You're not going to accomplish anything by rushing into the Parliament's chamber," one guard told them.

The chiefs quickly backed down, but issued a warning.

"OK, that's fine. Try coming onto our territory sometime then. You've drawn the line," said one chief.

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee then turned to the cameras.

"What a pile of crap we just heard," he said.

Madahbee said Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised partnership at the Crown-First Nations gathering last January, then immediately "jetted off to sell our resources to the world. He's constantly doing that."

"Sweeping the floor while some company from an international body takes billions out of our territory is not the answer to the poverty in our communities," Madahbee said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2012 A9

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