Divided First Nations Rally Behind Chief

Divided first nations rally behind chief 'We will not end up like Stockwell Day,' Sault says as challenge to Coon Come fades By KEVIN COX Wednesday, July 18, 2001 – Page A7 HALIFAX -- Assembly of First Nations national chief Matthew Coon Come easily fended off a phantom leadership challenge yesterday with an impassioned plea for unity at a time when the Assembly of First Nations appears deeply divided over issues of governance and financial accountability. Drummers had barely stopped pounding out the welcome song at the assembly's annual meeting when rumours began circulating about a non-confidence motion demanding the removal of the chief after his first year in office. The motion said many chiefs had questions about Mr. Coon Come's "leadership, political activity, religious convictions and ability to perform the job." But after Mr. Coon Come gave a powerful speech urging native leaders to stand together against attempts to assimilate and marginalize aboriginal people, two Ontario chiefs, Lyle Sayers and Leon Jourdain, whose names were on the recall motion as mover and seconder, insisted they supported Chief Coon Come. Chief Coon Come received a standing ovation from about 1,000 delegates after Larry Sault, chief of the Iroquois and Allied Indians, expressed his support for the national chief. "I have no problem with the national chief. I support him, and I will continue to support him. . . . We will not end up like Stockwell Day," Mr. Sault said, referring to the beleaguered Canadian Alliance leader. In his address, Mr. Coon Come acknowledged that some native organizations want to pull out of the Assembly of First Nations and represent themselves. But he urged the chiefs to stand together against challenges to native rights that he said threaten the existence of aboriginal people. "There are forces that would like to see us, first nations, eliminated from the face of the earth. . . . It will be attempted through the continual passing of laws that strip us, point by point, of our powers to govern ourselves as peoples," Mr. Coon Come said. "It will be attempted through the introductions of systems and institutions whose inappropriateness and ineffectiveness will leave us to a state of division and turmoil and make us doubt our own existence as peoples." Over the past year, native bands have gone through bitter debates over allegations of financial mismanagement and lack of accountability for the way public money is spent. As well, issues such as the growing native fishery have caused rifts between those who want to sign deals for boats and apply for licences with the federal government, and those who want to manage their own fishery based on their treaty rights. Native leaders also appear divided over how they should deal with sweeping proposals from Ottawa to alter the Indian Act and allow bands greater autonomy. Many chiefs are furious about the proposals because they say that Ottawa should not be telling natives how to govern themselves. Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault said in an open letter to the assembly yesterday that 160 sessions have been held to consult with native people on the changes, but the AFN pulled out of the discussions on April 30. Many chiefs are demanding the assembly follow through on its earlier vow to boycott the consultations and to develop its own plan for self-government. The assembly, however, will vote today on a proposal that calls for negotiations with the federal government to establish a "middle ground" for an agreement that would address problems with the Indian Act and provide changes that support economic development and fiscal initiatives. British Columbia vice-chief Satsan Herb George said it is important that native leaders tell the federal government how they want to govern themselves. "We need the opportunity to have that discussion and do the analysis," he said. But chiefs from Ontario and Quebec insisted that Ottawa is trying to eliminate its responsibility for native bands, and they demanded native leaders boycott the consultations on changing the Indian Act. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/GIS.Servlets.HTMLTemplate?tf=tgam/common/FullStory.html&cf=tgam/common/FullStory.cfg&configFileLoc=tgam/config&vg=BigAdVariableGenerator&date=20010718&dateOffset=&hub=headdex&title=Headlines&cache_key=headdexNational¤t_row=6&start_row=6&num_rows=1