Native leader says conflict will continue until self-determination recognized

Canadian Press
Tuesday, May 22, 2001

SAINT JOHN, N.B. (CP) – Canada’s relationship with native peoples will continue to be confrontational until governments embrace aboriginals’ right to self-determination, says a national native leader. 

In an interview during a “grassroots” stop in New Brunswick over the weekend, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations Matthew Coon Come said nothing less than fair recognition of native peoples will enable them to strengthen their communities and share in the wealth of the country. 

He said Ottawa’s proposed self-government consultations process is a mere “tinkering of the Indian Act”and aims to dictate life in native communities. 

“Our approach is that we want to strengthen our own institutions, our own societies,” he said. “We’re way beyond tinkering with the Indian Act.” 

Coon Come said the federal government’s unilateral approach to aboriginal title and treaty rights had also so far doomed attempts at resolution over the lobster fishery in Burnt Church, N.B., and access to Crown land resources – a battle native groups have engaged in on the international stage by supporting U.S. sanctions on Canadian softwood lumber. 

“We’re going to use the international forums to pressure the governments and call upon the major decision-makers to make sure there’s consideration for aboriginals and aboriginal rights,” he said. 

He said if the federal government continues to ignore the Supreme Court’s Marshall decision then there will continue to be problems. 

“I think we’ve made every effort and attempt to try to resolve the Burnt Church issue over the (past) year so we can that we can avoid any confrontations and proceed to develop a table for negotiations,” Coon Come said. 

“Hopefully we can iron this out before anything happens.” 

The provinces also have a similar duty to take the initiative and sit down for discussions instead of taking a wait-and-see attitude. If governments don’t act, the situation will only worsen, he said. 

“Eventually you’ll see such frustration among our young people who don’t see any movement, anything happening. They themselves will try to take things into their own hands.”