War of words heating up in Ottawa over C-33

OTTAWA — After the sudden resignation of AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo over his support of the controversial Bill C-33, the Harper Conservatives’ unilateral imposition of what the federal government is calling the “First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act”, the deal Harper thought was struck has hit a stone wall of resistance.

Insiders suggest that Atleo jumped to his sudden decision to resign rather than be thrown out of office through an impeachment process for his support of Bill C-33 and not heeding the wishes of the FN’S regional chiefs who were opposed.

Without a National Chief in office, the Confederacy of First Nations Chiefs has taken the reigns until a new National Chief can be named.

“I think what’s important with the Confederacy of First Nations is that it gives the voice to the grassroots,” Stan Beardy, AFN’s regional chief for Ontario said.

The tenuous relationship between some AFN Chiefs and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt hangs on a very thin thread and threatens to explode into nation wide, all out, protests that could escalate the growing mistrust and frustration into direct action that could include the “economic shutdown or Canada.”

The tough words were attributed to certain outspoken members of the Confederacy of First Nations Chiefs, incensed by the lack of consultation with First Nations, except through AFN’s now departed National Chief, Atleo. It was made clear that the CFNC will not accept the government’s plan to “upgrade” on-reserve education, and not support anything Atleo may have negotiated before his resignation.

Those in opposition say Bill C-33 does not address the real challenges faced by First Nations schools. There is not enough funding to allow for student assessment and screening. Second-level services, such as collective human resources and administrative services, program and policy development, purchasing, as well as building and equipment maintenance are also not addressed, nor are third-level services, such as student counselling, speech and language pathology, special needs services, or curriculum development, which would seriously hinder First Nations education across Canada.

A first-draft statement from the CFNC, leaked to the media, stated, “Should Canada not withdraw and cease all imposed legislation on First Nations without our free, prior and informed consent, we will strategically and calculatedly begin the economic shutdown of Canada’s economy from coast to coast.”

That was seen as a shot across the bough of the federal government and has drawn loud criticism by Valcourt and other Conservative Members of Parliament.

After NDP aboriginal critic Jean Crowder asked Valcourt if he would meet with the Confederacy of Nations, Valcourt angrily responded that he would not meet with a group of “rogue chiefs” until they withdrew their threat to bring the Canadian economy to a halt.

“I think that members of the House will agree that we should ask members to condemn in the strongest terms the rogue chiefs who are threatening the security of Canadians, their families and taxpayers,” Valcourt told the Commons.

Regional Chief for Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard, who has been acting as spokesman for the AFN since Atleo resigned, told CBC News that the ‘rogue’ chiefs Valcourt was referring to “are as duly elected as he is.”
“The minister is out of order and should apologize,” said Picard.

However the CFNC has also backed away from the threat of economic shut down.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says the strong statement was in the form of a first draft and was not intended to be made public. “This statement has been taken a little bit out of context,” Nepinak said in a CBC interview on Thursday afternoon. “This statement has not been vetted nor approved by any of us, it’s been a discussion and I think it reflects some of the frustration that some of the chiefs are experiencing. This is an expression of the frustration of indigenous people.” Protests on Parliament Hill brought a thousand angry First Nations people to Ottawa including a busload from Six Nations and Mississaugas of the New Credit. Six Nations Elected Chief Ava Hill spoke passionately to the crowd gathered in front of the Parliament Buildings, drawing rounds of applause in agreement. The war of words continues between the federal government and First Nations groups across Canada

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