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Repeal Indian Act, national chief urges

Federal law has brought misery to natives, Atleo says

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The federal law governing First Nations has brought them nothing but misery and must be repealed within two to five years, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) says.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/07/2010 (4574 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The federal law governing First Nations has brought them nothing but misery and must be repealed within two to five years, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) says.

Shawn Atleo said aboriginal people can thank the Indian Act for the highest suicide and incarceration rates in Canada along with the poorest incomes and educational levels.

"Let’s focus our energies and seize the initiative. Let’s cut to the heart of the problem and once and for all deal with the Indian Act," Atleo told representatives of more than 600 First Nations gathered in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Shawn Atleo said aboriginal people can thank the Indian Act for the highest suicide and incarceration rates in Canada.

He called for a national summit involving Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nation leaders to kick-start discussions on a First Nation-Crown agreement in which First Nations receive "real decision making authority" and are funded according to "population, inflation and need." That, he said, will allow them to build their economies and move towards self-sufficiency.

Atleo said he will attend next month’s meeting of provincial premiers in Churchill to lobby first ministers for their support in this initiative.

"We have a responsibility to carefully rebuild our nations and our governments," he told the Winnipeg audience. "We must ensure full accountability and transparency in the process."

But if First Nations are to advocate for control over their own destiny, their national organization, must wean itself of its financial dependence on the federal government, Atleo warned. The AFN receives almost all of its funding from Ottawa, leaving it with a "fundamental conflict of interest," he told delegates.

Canada has much to gain by giving First Nations the tools and resources to escape poverty, Atleo told reporters later. If the country were to close the education and employment gaps between First Nations people and other Canadians, the economic benefit would be in billions of dollars, he said.

However, Canada currently invests $2,000 per student less educating kids on reserves than in the rest of the country, and the high school graduation rate in First Nation communities stands at a lowly 49 per cent. "The status quo is not acceptable," Atleo said.

The Assembly of First Nations annual general meeting continues through Thursday in Winnipeg.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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