Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nelson in Iran discussing issues on behalf of, well, no one

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CALGARY -- When you've got a fabricated human rights complaint about Canada, there's nothing like taking it straight to the undisputed champion of human rights -- Iran.

Terry Nelson, former chief of Manitoba's Roseau River First Nation, is in Iran this week to shoot off his mouth and make a fool of himself. His travelling companion is Dennis Pashe, the deposed chief of Manitoba's Dakota Tipi First Nation.

Nelson told the Winnipeg Free Press by telephone from Tehran Monday that Pashe "was the only one brave enough to come along." Or dumb enough.

Nelson is meeting with Iranian officials to talk about Alberta oil, western Canadian pipelines and his hopes of convincing OPEC to help aboriginals get in on resource-sharing. In an email he sent to other chiefs, obtained by the Free Press, he wrote: "We, the indigenous people in the three Prairie provinces, are currently the most powerful people in the world. We sit on the pipelines that deliver 2.5 million barrels of oil a day to the United States."

Nelson, Pashe and the Iranians can have all the meetings they want, but OPEC has no say over Canada's internal affairs, and as former chiefs, Nelson and Pashe have no say over aboriginal affairs. So it sounds like a meeting of equals -- all equally powerless.

When not discussing oil on behalf of no one, Nelson has been dissing Canada. In a recent letter to the National Post, he complained in part that "the Jewish media" demonize and dehumanize Iranians. And he likens Canada's policies toward aboriginal people to concentration camps and extermination. Now, here's where he's going to run into a bit of trouble from his hosts, and perhaps Nelson was so enamoured of his own extremist rhetoric that he didn't think of this earlier. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his loyal minions aren't going to believe him.

They're Holocaust deniers. They don't believe there were any concentration camps and they certainly believe there was no extermination. It's just that pesky Jewish media again, up to their old tricks, insisting that such things really did happen.

I'm sure Nelson believes the Holocaust happened. That's why he can throw around phrases like "concentration camps" and "extermination." But his hosts don't believe it happened. So, his analogy is going to fall on deaf ears. Gosh, I sure hope his whole trip isn't spoiled because of it.

Then, of course, it's unlikely that the Iranians know that the Canadian government has spent billions of dollars on aboriginal programs, including startup capital for aboriginal businesses, tuition for post-secondary education and money for job-skills training.

Well, maybe Nelson's other points will resonate with the Iranians. Like when he said in his interview on Iran's Press TV that aboriginal youth have more chances to end up in prison than to finish high school. He didn't mention that the choice between those two destinies is up to aboriginal youth themselves.

Like any teens, they can choose to commit crimes and get into trouble, or they can focus their efforts on getting an education and aspiring to a career. They can choose to be the generation that overcomes their parents' and grandparents' legacy of years in residential schools.

Nelson also said that the rates at which First Nations women are being sent to prison are part of "the ongoing effort by the Canadian government to exterminate us."

Wow. Next thing you know, Iran is going to invade Canada to crush totalitarianism here and try to establish democracy. That is, just as soon as they finish fine-tuning their nuclear capability.

Naomi Lakritz is a columnist for the Calgary Herald.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2012 A11

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