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Minister refuses to meet chiefs until they drop their threats to the economy

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OTTAWA - The federal government is refusing to meet with a group of "rogue chiefs" from within the stricken Assembly of First Nations until they withdraw their threat to cripple the Canadian economy.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said Thursday he won't talk to representatives from the Confederacy of Nations — a group of chiefs from across the country who meet in times of crisis, or in between the assembly's scheduled gatherings — until they retract their threat.

"I think that members of the House would agree that we should ... condemn in the strongest terms the threat of those rogue chiefs who are threatening the security of Canadians, their families and taxpayers," Valcourt said during question period.

"I will meet with these people when they unequivocally withdraw their threat to the security of Canadian families, taxpayers and citizens."

The assembly's charter says one of the many reasons the confederacy exists is to "address any emergency in matters of a fundamental nature affecting one or more First Nations."

However, until this week, the governing body had been dormant for a decade.

It was revived when Shawn Atleo abruptly quit as national chief of the assembly after he lost the support of regional chiefs and faced the humiliating prospect of a vote to relieve him of his duties.

The chiefs are in Ottawa this week to discuss the Conservative government's proposed changes to First Nations education.

The education bill has proved deeply polarizing among First Nations. Some say it would relinquish too much control over their children's schooling to Ottawa, while others say it would provide a huge injection of sorely needed money into aboriginal education.

Atleo, who supported the Conservative bill, said he was stepping down to avoid becoming a "lightning rod" in the debate.

Valcourt has put a halt to the reforms until the AFN clarifies its position.

One of the confederacy's biggest concerns is a perceived lack of consultation between the Conservatives and First Nations on the education bill and other pieces of legislation.

The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network is reporting the confederacy wants the Tories to drop "all imposed legislation on First Nations without free, prior and informed consent" — or else.

"We will strategically and calculatedly begin the economic shutdown of Canada's economy from coast to coast," says a draft statement obtained by the network.

"First Nations will determine whether or not there is intentional economic for the economic development on Turtle Island."

Turtle Island is a term used by some First Nations to refer to North America.

But Valcourt questioned whether the confederacy really speaks for most First Nations.

"I do not believe that these chiefs represent the majority of the chiefs and councils throughout Canada, who I know and have met many times, who care about reconciliation, their children and their children's educations," he said.

"I do not think that this group is representative of the majority of first nations and I trust that the good, hard-working chiefs will speak up."

Follow @steve_rennie on Twitter

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