First Nations to blockade railways on Manitoba reserves - June 14, 2006
First Nations leaders in Manitoba are planning to blockade rail lines this summer to pressure the federal government to settle outstanding land claims.
During a general assembly of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, 50 representatives of First Nations voted unanimously in favour of blocking rail traffic on reserves this summer, executive director Lorne Cochrane told CBC Manitoba's Radio Noon on Wednesday.
The bands involved plan to block the rail lines for 24 hours later in June.
At least seven of the province's 64 reserves have expressed interest in taking part in the protest, although details on which bands or rail lines will be involved have not yet been finalized, Cochrane said.
The group has not discussed their plans with the rail companies, but said they expected to give advance notice of their final strategies.
"We're not out to put anybody's lives in danger or to jeopardize anything that's going to hurt any one individual, or organization or First Nation," Cochrane said.
First Nations need 'a seat at the table'
He acknowledged the rail companies do not have the power to deal with land claims, but said the proposed protest is also seen as an opportunity to inform the public.
"Our objective is to inform the general public of the First Nations issues and that we want to become meaningful partners in developing this province, this country. We're tired of being left out," he said.
Cochrane said poverty and a lack of economic opportunities have held back aboriginal people, adding that they want "a seat at the table" to determine their own futures.
"It gives Canada an opportunity to come forth with a plan of action on how we move forward in addressing the concerns of First Nations," he said.
The assembly did not say whether the proposed blockade had anything to do with the uncertain status of the Kelowna agreement.
Former prime minister Paul Martin agreed to the five-year, $5-billion plan to improve health, education, housing and economic development for aboriginals three days before his minority Liberal government fell in November 2005.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn't mention the agreement in his May 2 budget. He has said his Conservative government "supports the principles and objectives" of the Kelowna agreement, but won't be bound by the price tag negotiated by the Liberals.