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First Nations assert rights to resources on international stage

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First Nations leaders are reaching out to leaders of other nations and linking arms with activists here to get the message out that anyone who wants to a piece of Canada's resources must be prepared to do business with them, first.

In a press conference Friday, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leader Derek Nepinak presented a united front with activists behind a national campaign for a Day of Action next Monday.

And he announced Manitoba's leaders are working with prairie chiefs in talks with OPEC and with Ontario chiefs in similar talks with China, with a view to advancing the land and treaty rights profile of Canada's First Nations on the world stage.

"What we're hoping to get across is to send a message to the members of OPEC, to China and other members of the international community that we did not cede, release or surrender our natural resources to a colonial government... we are waking up from a 100-year slumber and we are going to impose our own laws," Nepinak declared.

Nepinak was among the chiefs on Parliament Hill this week who protested the federal omnibus budget bill on the grounds it attacks aboriginal land rights. That, along with a suite of federal legislation that would alter treaty rights, are behind a grassroots movement spreading through links on Facebook and Twitter. Right now the focus is to roll out rallies in cities across Canada next week in support of aboriginal rights.

Nepinak, flanked by Southern Chiefs leader Murray Clearsky, said across the country there is momentum building among aboriginal people from the kitchen to the podium to assert land and treaty rights in the streets and internationally.

It's born of a sense of frustration over broken treaties in this country that has boiled over now because of federal bills in the House of Commons and the Senate that chip away at aboriginal rights that are supposed to be protected by Canada's constitution, aboriginal activists said.

"I need to make something clear," said Leo Baskatawang, one of half a dozen First Nation social activists who shared the podium Friday. "Treaties are nation-to-nation agreements and I think that's not understood in Canada and it's something that needs to be recognized. There are movement growing across Canada and this is going to be the beginning of further action that takes place."

The rally planned for Winnipeg takes place Monday on the steps of the provincial legislature at noon until 5 p.m.

It isn't the first time Manitoba chiefs have shown a united front against poverty and the social conditions that plague aboriginal people on and off reserve. What's different this time is the momentum appears to be building up from the grassroots and not trickling down from the leaders, a point made earlier this week in a column by University of Winnipeg's director of indigenous inclusion, Wab Kinew.

Manitoba's Grand Chief picked up on that element Friday by paraphrasing a quote from India's Mahatma Ghandi who famously said that when people lead, leaders must follow.

"The chiefs across this country, particularly in Manitoba, have grown tired of dealing with a Conservative government that continues to act like we do not exist," Manitoba's Grand Chief said.

Most of the Facebook and Twitter buzz is generated under the banner "Idle No More."

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