Manitoba native leaders want minister's resignation over Indian Act changes
- Manitoba native leaders want minister's resignation over Indian Act changes
WINNIPEG (CP) - Manitoba aboriginal leaders want Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault replaced and say they will bar all department officials from their communities to fight his plan to revamp the Indian Act.
"The minister of Indian Affairs has no credibility within our organization as well as the communities," Dennis White Bird, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said Tuesday. "They have no confidence in the minister of Indian Affairs."
Atlantic and Quebec aboriginal groups are considering similar action, said Jean LaRose, spokesman for the national Assembly of First Nations, in a telephone interview from Ottawa.
Nault has proposed a summer-long review of the Indian Act, with hearings in aboriginal communities.
He insists the goal is legislation that will strengthen First Nation governments, not weaken treaty rights. But it also appears to focus on making First Nations and their leaders more accountable.
Nault said Tuesday the process will go ahead as planned.
"There is a number of consultations that'll be announced in the next week," he said from Ottawa.
"For example we've already got over 70 First Nations in Saskatchewan willing to participate. I think you'll see that consultations will be a very active process once we've had a chance to announce them. "
White Bird complained that the current Indian Act handcuffs First Nations. He wants legislation requiring the implementation of current treaty rights before the Indian Act is touched.
"If you want to amend the Indian Act or have another act, another piece of legislation, then we want recognition of our treaty and we want implementation of our treaty rights."
He also said native leaders have to be involved in the process.
Two weeks ago, many First Nations groups in Canada were talking about having their own consultation process to see what their people wanted done with the Indian Act, but White Bird abandoned that approach on Tuesday.
He said Manitoba First Nations will do all they can to block the federal government in its plan to replace the act with new legislation.
"It's imposed, it's unilateral and it has been arbitrarily initiated by the government of Canada," he complained.
"There has been virtually no consultation right from the beginning. It has been designed to circumvent our leadership."
He promised protests, a public awareness campaign and efforts to build international support to fight the legislation, which Nault has said he would like to see introduced in the fall.
Nault, meanwhile, has also been accused of delaying funding to aboriginal groups over the issue, a charge he denies.
But Margaret Swan, who heads the southern chiefs organization in Manitoba, said she believes money is being used to try to get First Nations to co-operate.
As for hinging Indian Act reform on treaty implementation, a process which First Nations themselves say hasn't happened after more than 100 years, Swan suggested more speed is possible.
"If the government would work with us in partnership, this partnership they talk about in sincerity, then we would get there a lot quicker."
She said they invited Nault to come to Manitoba to work to resolve the issue last week but he refused.
© The Canadian Press, 2001
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