IN THE NEWS ~ Feds told to scrap their Act

Published | Publié: 2012-01-24
Received | Reçu: 2012-01-24 3:54 AM



NEWS, Page: 18

Feds told to scrap their Act

Longstanding legislation major stumbling block at native summit, prof says


   OTTAWA -- First Nations leaders hope a historic summit with government officials will calm troubled waters, but Native experts say relations will be on the rocks until trust is developed over time.

   Gov. Gen. David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several key cabinet ministers will meet with dozens of chiefs Tuesday to discuss issues including treaty rights, economic development and education in First Nation communities.

    Shawn Atleo, the national chief for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), hopes the meeting will be an opportunity to reset the relationship between First Nations and the Crown, but several chiefs say this is only the first step.

    "It's a start," said Perry Bell e g a rde , the chief of Saskatchewan's Little Black Bear First Nation. "It's going to happen over time."

    Robert Lovelace, a Queen's university professor who specializes in indigenous studies, said the meeting is the "most important gathering" in a long time, but progress is on hold as long as the Indian Act exists.

    "As long as the Indian Act is in place, the old relationship will always be in place," said Lovelace. "The Indian Act has been an instrument of keeping aboriginal people marginalized."

    The Indian Act was passed by Parliament in 1876 and gave the government enormous power over First Nations people living on reserves.

    The government plans to modernize the statute, but it doesn't plan to gut it.

    Harper scheduled a last-minute meeting Monday with AFN's executive branch and regional chiefs, but the NDP said it's clear Tuesday's summit isn't a major priority for the feds.

    "For him to say he's going to stay for a photo-op, it's simply unacceptable," NDP MP Peter Julian said. "It's paying lip service to what is a fundamental crisis."

    The prime minister is expected to deliver a speech Tuesday morning, and several cabinet ministers will represent the government for the latter part of day's meetings.