Canadian Chiefs Threaten Protests Over Indian Act
By Julie Remy
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian Indian leaders threatened civil disobedience on Thursday, possibly blocking highway traffic from coast to coast, if the federal government doesn't work closer with First Nations leaders in overhauling the historic Indian Act.
Indian Affairs minister Robert Nault has outlined plans to amend the 1871 Indian Act with the aim of improving Indian self governance, notably by making band councils more accountable and updating the voting system on reserves.
But a meeting of the Assembly of First Nations in Halifax, Nova Scotia, voted unanimously on Wednesday to protest against Ottawa's way of overhauling the act, saying the changes are being imposed on aboriginal peoples without due consultation.
"First Nations of Canada shall be forced to engage in an aggressive strategic plan of action at the local, national and international levels" the assembly of chiefs said in a draft resolution to be adopted on Thursday at the two-day meeting.
"We will block the highway form Prince Edward Island to Vancouver," Lawrence Paul, chief of the Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia said on Wednesday.
Ghislain Picard, leader of some 100,000 natives in Quebec and Labrador, told Reuters from Halifax on Thursday that bands would increase their pressure on Ottawa if the government did not change its plans within a month.
"If it's what needs to be done to prove our commitment, we would consider (blocking roads)," he said.
Picard said the native leaders gathered in Halifax, representing some 700,000 Indians across Canada, wanted to be part of the consultation process to change the act, which he described as "a colonial legacy that needs to be abandoned."
He remained suspicious of Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault's offer to "convene a meeting in the coming days to discuss a work plan."
"This announcement must be considered, along with the affirmation, that the consultation is still going on, and our resolution was very firm: the process must stop now if the minister really wants to sit at the table," he said.
But Ottawa said it was determined to proceed.
"National consultations will go forward as scheduled. First Nation peoples and chiefs who have already participated and who plan to participate in consultations have been and will continue to be the backbone of this process," Nault said in a statement.
Although Canada's 1.4 million aboriginal peoples receive some C$7 billion annually from the federal government, they remain plagued by poverty, often-deplorable living conditions, high rates of suicide and health problems.