Group says aboriginals not ready for self-government [Senatecommittee hearings]

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Fri Jan 5 16:33:42 MST 2001

Canadian Press Newswire
March 2, 1999
HEADLINE: Group says aboriginals not ready for self-government
[Senate committee hearings]
BYLINE: Ayed, Nahlah

Self-government will become self-destructive for aboriginals if
something isn't done to improve accountability and protect human
rights on reserves, a coalition said Tuesday.

On behalf of aboriginals in five provinces, the First Nation
Accountability Coalition of Manitoba told a Senate committee that
First Nations are woefully unprepared to take their affairs into
their own hands.

''It's a mess, a big mess, for self-government to try to be
implemented now,'' president Leona Freed told a news conference later.

''Self-government is a noose for our people.'''

The coalition is at odds with aboriginal leaders.  But Freed says her
grassroots movement, which began with women in Manitoba and now has
sister coalitions in other provinces, is gaining support from
thousands across the country.

Freed and others painted a disturbing picture of problems they say
plague most reserves in Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta,
Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Ontario.

Mismanagement, fraud and embezzlement of band funds are rampant,
Freed said.  Children are going hungry while chiefs and their
families ride in limousines and rack up travel costs.  There are
campaigns of terror against aboriginals who oppose those in charge.

Freed said she can't even enter the band office on her own reserve,
Manitoba's Dakota Plains.

The Indian Affairs Department is complicit in allowing financial
mismanagement, especially because it won't deal with anyone but the
chiefs  and councils - many of whom aren't properly elected, she
noted - and refuses to investigate irregularities.

''The Department of Indian Affairs condones the criminal activities
of chief and council in Canada's First Nations.  There's absolutely
no  punishment for these kinds of people.

''We have self-appointed chiefs, silent chiefs, illiterate chiefs,
bought-and-paid for chiefs, band custom chiefs, hereditary custom
chiefs  and above all, chiefs and families make all the rules with no
sensitivity for band members' needs.''

Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart said working with ''duly elected
chiefs and council'' is responsible and so is moving toward
self-government ''only when communities feel the capacity and the
capability is there.''

She refused to ''paint all First Nations with the same brush'' and
said not all the answers lie at the federal level.

''The old approach that the answers lie in Ottawa, that the minister
of Indian affairs should come in and fix all the problems is
antiquated, it's in the past,'' she said outside the House.

''We have to work positively together to build a human capacity for
open transparent governments.''

Phil Fontaine, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations,
said corruption on reserves should be reported to the RCMP and
disputed Freed's  assertion that aboriginal peoples aren't ready for
self government.

''We've been ready to govern ourselves for as long as we've been
here,'' he said in an interview.

''That suggestion that we're not ready for self government plays into
the hands of people that wish to continue to discriminate against

Freed suggested that an independent ombudsman be appointed to each
reserve to ensure federal funds are properly spent.

Reform MP Myron Thompson said he'd introduce a private member's bill
today in the House on installing ombudsmen in aboriginal communities.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs did not return calls.

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