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First Nations serve notice

Plan to enhance global profile

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First Nations leaders are reaching out to leaders abroad and linking arms with activists here to send out a single message: If you're doing business in Canada, do it with First Nations.

On Friday, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leader Derek Nepinak presented a united front with activists behind a national campaign for a day of action Monday. He said Manitoba's leaders are working with Prairie chiefs in talks with OPEC leaders and Ontario chiefs in similar talks with China.

The focus is to advance land rights and the aboriginal profile of Canadian 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 said.

This week, Nepinak and Ontario Nishnawbe Aski Grand Chief Stanley Beardy met with a senior official from the Canadian Chinese Consulate to discuss business possibilities with China.

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.

The Harper majority could pass the bill, C-45, through Parliament at any time despite public criticism that it streamlines oil and mining projects at the expense of environment and fisheries protection.

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.

The focus so far is to roll out rallies in cities across Canada, including Winnipeg, next week in support of aboriginal land rights.

Nepinak, flanked by Southern Chiefs leader Murray Clearsky, said there is momentum building among aboriginal people. To prove the point, he relinquished the podium at a press conference to a young aboriginal activist.

"I need to make something clear," said Leo Baskatawang, one of half-a-dozen First Nations social activists. "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 movements growing across Canada and this is going to be the beginning of further action that takes place."

A rally planned for Winnipeg takes place Monday outside the legislature from noon until 5 p.m. It isn't the first time Manitoba chiefs have shown a united front against poverty, poor social conditions and soaring rates of violence for aboriginal people.

The momentum is building from the grassroots up and not trickling down from the leaders.

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

Highlights of legislation affecting First Nations

Here are the highlights of half-a-dozen pieces of legislation that directly affect First Nations:

-- Bill C-27: to impose reporting mechanisms and make chiefs and councils accountable for finances. Introduced in 2011, it is before Parliament for passage, with new amendments.

-- Bill C-45: Jobs and Growth Act -- This is Part II of the government's omnibus budget bill and was introduced in October. It reverses previous laws to protect the environment, fisheries and navigable waters, and makes it easier to surrender Indian lands.

-- Bill S-2: Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests of Rights Act -- introduced and passed in the Senate, it's now at the second of three readings in the Commons. It would protect women's rights to on-reserve matrimonial homes.

Private member's bill:

Bill C-428, an act to replace the Indian Act -- introduced by Saskatchewan Conservative MP Rob Clarke in June and now in its second reading. The Indian Act is federal legislation that governs civic and economic life on Canada's 633 First Nations. Clarke's bill would delete references in the act to residential schools and repeal or amend other sections dealing with wills, education and bylaws. Canada's aboriginal affairs minister would be required to make annual updates on progress to replace the rest of the act.

-- In Canada, legislation must pass three separate readings in both the Commons and Senate before Parliament can proclaim new laws.

For comprehensive information on all legislation, visit

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 A7

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