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Minister's resignation viewed with skepticism

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TORONTO -- The surprise resignation of Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan is being met with raised eyebrows among some First Nations leaders, who call it a diversion as aboriginal issues gain momentum on the national stage.

Isadore Day, chief of the Serpent River First Nation in Ontario, said Duncan's decision came at a convenient time for the Conservative government, which is under mounting pressure from aboriginal groups to address treaty rights and other issues.

"It appears he's getting out when the getting's good and that's again being seen as a strategy of proactive disengagement by First Nations leaders," he said in a phone interview Saturday.

"This certainly will buy some time for the government. They'll be able to turn around and now say, 'We've got to brief the new minister on these files,' " he said.

"All the while, there may be opportunities that get missed."

He said many of his counterparts share his concerns, though few are likely to speak out for fear of reprisals.

Day initially voiced his misgivings on Twitter Friday shortly after Duncan's announcement, calling the move a "shell game" and accusing Ottawa of being "tactically strategic" in making Duncan its "sacrificial lamb."

Other First Nations groups expressed shock or even sadness at Duncan's departure and said they look forward to working with his replacement, Heritage Minister James Moore, who is temporarily taking over the portfolio.

A statement by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs also strongly urged the government to choose the next minister carefully, adding Canada's indigenous people are "no longer willing to accept the status quo" of the Indian Act.

A spokeswoman for the group was more vocal on Twitter, however, saying Duncan's resignation appeared to be "a bit of a diversion tactic."

The message posted by Sheila North Wilson went on to say: "Either way, we are affecting (sic) change and I think prayers and songs we sing are helping."

She said Saturday the comment reflected her own opinion rather than the chiefs.

Day said it will be hard to overcome the loss of momentum stemming from the repeated change in leadership.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 17, 2013 A4

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