By Alexandra Paul
Manitoba’s aboriginal chiefs laid out a timetable of civil acts this spring leading up to a national day of protest June 29.
The campaign is an effort to focus attention on frustrations over grinding poverty and political inaction on century-old treaty promises for land and resources, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leader Ron Evans said Thursday.
If demonstrations and marches don’t work then aboriginal leaders will take more drastic measures, possibly including roving blockades of rail lines, he and other chiefs told reporters.
“We are hoping we don’t have to go there,” Evans said.
Evans outlined the strategy following an emergency meeting of chiefs from many of the 63 first nations in Manitoba who are angry over rising tensions with Ottawa. Winnipeg, with 70,000 aboriginal people, is often called the aboriginal capital of Canada. Another 75,000 live on province’s First Nation communities.
On April 25, there will be a rally of aboriginal people from every corner of the province at the legislature.
In May, First Nation chief will invite federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice to the province to discuss aboriginal grievances.
If all that fails, then First Nations will stop co-operating on development projects across the province, from proposed hydro dams to logging and mining enterprises.
“Many projects that this province needs to build the economy require the support of First Nations,” said Evans, listing corridors for hydro lines and pipe lines. “They run through First Nations lands and to make those projects success, they need our support,” Evans said.
Tension are rising between aboriginal people and the federal government everywhere in Canada but the escalation appears more pronounced in Manitoba.
“The spotlight is on Manitoba, and with the country watching we will take the lead,” Evans said.
Last weekend, a draft Canadian military manual on counter-insurgents named radical aboriginal groups as potential terrorists.
Last week, Dakota Ojibway Treaty Council and the 35-member Southern Chief Organizations called an emergency meeting to consider roving rail blockades this summer without bothering with demonstrations.
In March, Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice threatened funding cuts to native organizations that took part in blockades. Evans threatened to pull first nations out of development projects around the province, effectively halting talks to build hydro dams, power transmission corridors and pipelines, a warning he made again Thursday.
Chiefs say they all agree the problem is grinding poverty and a sense of economic despair — but action to fix it has polarized them.
Some, led by former national Chief Ovide Mercredi, want to use peaceful means of dissent such as demonstrations to draw public support for the aboriginal plight.
A younger generation of leaders like Dakota Ojibway Treaty Council chair Chief Terrance Nelson say only drastic measures, like rail blockades, will satisfy the level of anger among aboriginal youth that only needs a spark to explode.
Leaders say they will start talking to aboriginal people from remote northern communities to urban ghettoes to get out the vote for select candidates in federal and provincial elections widely anticipated this year.