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NEWS RELEASE · 13th November 2012
Canadian Press
Federal attempts to repair the much-hated Indian Act are not going to work because First Nations have not been involved in designing the way forward, says the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Shawn Atleo says Ottawa has taken a piecemeal approach to First Nations reform — fiddling with education here, clean drinking water there — without tackling the fundamental problem of aboriginal treaties and rights not being respected.

"You've got to do them at the same time. They are one piece," Atleo said Friday in an interview.

Ottawa has promised repeatedly — through treaties, a UN declaration, and most recently a high-profile summit with Prime Minister Stephen Harper — to jointly develop solutions that respect long-standing agreements with First Nations — all to little avail, he said.

"The expectations and understanding has not been a shared one," Atleo said. Instead, Ottawa "is fixing flaws from a unilateral, one-dimensional perspective which does not reflect the promise of treaty."

Conflict, unrest and interminable legal challenges are the inevitable result unless Ottawa finds the political will to co-operate, he added.

Atleo is proposing a series of steps that would see First Nations governed mainly by rights enshrined in the Constitution and sharing more fully in the proceeds of resource development.

Jan O'Driscoll, a spokesman for Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan, pointed out a bill that makes band electoral procedures more transparent, a bill to improve matrimonial rights, a commitment to develop legislation to improve education on reserves, and a promise to make the land claims process more efficient.

Plus, the Conservatives are backing a private member's bill that would repeal parts of the Indian Act.

"Our government recognizes that the Indian Act is an impediment to the success of many First Nations communities. That is why, since 2006, the Harper government has taken steps to provide tangible alternatives and improvements to the Indian Act," O'Driscoll said.

It's exactly that kind of response that proves his point, said Atleo.

"Government's response has often been limited, narrow, piecemeal and unilateral," he said in his first major attempt since being re-elected last summer to set out next steps for First Nations self-governance.

He wants a thorough audit of all aboriginal policies to see if they are compatible with the Constitution's recognition of aboriginal rights — because he believes in many cases, they are not.

Hundreds of billions of dollars in investment in natural resources is at stake, since companies are often not certain who owns the land and resources they want to develop, he added.

The clock is now ticking, with increasing pressure on lands and resources and increasing frustration and tension," Atleo said.

"We have seen the tragedies that explode when patience runs out."

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