Protests mounted outside first ministers meeting
----- Original Message -----
From: RUSSELL DIABO
Sent: Monday, January 02, 2006 5:10 PM
Subject: Protests mounted outside first ministers meeting
January - 2006
Protests mounted outside first ministers meeting
By Paul Barnsley, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Kelowna
Two Aboriginal groups held protests outside the site of the first minister's meeting (FMM) on Nov. 24 and 25.
The first day saw friendship centre employees and supporters vying for attention against a protest mounted by federal correctional officers who were there to criticize Prime Minister Paul Martin because his government has not satisfied their demands for better pay and working conditions.
The friendship centre group braved snowy weather to protest the fact that the National Association of Friendship Centres was not one of the national Aboriginal organizations meeting with the first ministers.
Former chief and tribal council chairman Art Manuel organized a grassroots protest that arrived on the second day of the meeting. There were between 60 and 100 people in the group. Protest signs from various regions of western Canada were visible in the crowd that rallied around Manuel.
"They're coming from across the country, but with grassroots it's really tough," he said. "None of us is federally funded or provincially. None of this comes from anywhere except the grassroots' money. We put our money in the gas tank and we come down here."
Manuel said that regional grassroots networks are trying to organize nationally.
"All of these people are community-based activists. That's what really the Grassroots Peoples' Coalition is all about. These people are talking about joining together and becoming a more solid organization from coast to coast," he said.
Manuel said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine was taking "totally the wrong approach" by meeting with the first ministers.
"That 10-year agreement they signed, it will be used in court against our people here. They'll say, 'Oh, the good Indians said that we'll deal for the next 10 years on housing and education and health care and economic development. You're a bad Indian, so we're going to give you 90 days in jail for fishing or 45 days in jail for standing up to stop Sun Peaks.' So, it's actually going to work against the people," said Art Manual. "These people inside here, they talk about programs and services. You know, $4 billion? Not one cent of that will reach my grandchildren. I can tell you that much. It'll be all gobbled up in the brown bureaucracy. Conditions won't change in 10 years if that strategy's adopted in there. The only way you're going to change the conditions of our people is the B.C. government and the Canadian government have to recognize our Aboriginal and treaty rights. No ands, ifs or buts about that. That's what we're struggling for. Programs and services have to be based on our right to the land."
Manuel said he'd read over the documents related to the first ministers' meeting and it reminded him of a previous meeting that was a long time ago and produced no positive results.
"The last time people ever met on programs and services in Canada was in 1964. That's 40 years ago. Right now the big problem is the federal government's view is that programs and services should be through the province on education and housing. The provinces think it should be with the federal government because it's Indian related," he said. "They're trying to off-load on each other. Nobody's claiming responsibility for programs and services. It's probably going to end that way. Next time anything might be done, maybe it'll be in another 40 years."
Since the current national First Nation leadership is not listening to his advice, Manuel has gone outside of Canada's borders to spread the message that recognition of the inherent right of Indigenous self-government and of Aboriginal title is the only way to go.
"Internationally, what we've done is we've actually had the World Trade Organization accept arguments on behalf of the Indigenous people that Canada's policy not to recognize Aboriginal and treaty rights is a cash subsidy to the Canadian forest industry," he said. "That means Indigenous people have proprietary rights in their land. That basically means that we're subsidizing the Canadian system. We're not bums off the taxpayers' dollars. And that's what I resent here, too. It makes us look like we're bumming off the taxpayers. I never asked Phil Fontaine to bum money for me in public and make a big spectacle out of it. It's ridiculous. The thing is that money belongs to us. It was stolen from us the minute they harvested resources that were the source of that tax dollar."
Art is the son of George Manuel, a former leader of the National Indian Brotherhood, the precursor organization of the Assembly of First Nations. Art's late brother Bob ran for national chief in 1997. When asked if he would be running for national chief this summer, Art Manual simply said "No, no, no, no, no, no, no."
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