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Chief wants more action on issues.

Dear Editor:

Oka. Burnt Church. Gustafson Lake. Caledonia.

Quite often when we hear about First Nations it involves another standoff or blockade. Issues and grievances that have dragged on for years escalate until desperate people take desperate measures.

We all know that there is a better way. For years and years, federal governments of all political stripes have made commitments to improve the relationship between the Crown and First Nations. Processes are announced that are supposed to help us resolve claims in a less confrontational manner. The Indian Act is portrayed as outdated, holding First Nations back, and in need of replacement.

But nothing really seems to change.

Chemawawin Cree Nation has had a specific grievance against the federal government since the 1960s when our community was moved and our old homes and lands flooded to make way for the Grand Rapids Forebay hydroelectric project. We long ago settled our grievances with the province and with Manitoba Hydro, but 40 years later our claim against the federal government has not been addressed.

We want to move forward. A settlement of our claim would help heal outstanding wounds. The compensation we receive would help us better develop our community, improving living standards and creating opportunity for our young people.

A settlement of our claim will help us achieve our goal of a renewed and positive relationship with the federal government. Also key to this new relationship is negotiating our way out of the Indian Act. If Chemawawin is to thrive in the 21st century, we need governance structures that are relevant today, not relics of the 19th century.

During the last federal election, the Conservative Party platform made a commitment to replacing the Indian Act and to resolving specific claims. The prime minister recently announced a new independent body to address specific claims. Achieving this would be a major step in the right direction and a vast improvement over the adversarial system we have right now. Chemawawin supports an independent claims process but we hope that, until it is actually established, the government will be willing to negotiate with First Nations that prefer cooperation over litigation.

Since the 2006 election, Chemawawin has been seeking answers from the government on two specific issues: we want to take our specific claim out of the courts in order to seek a negotiated solution, and we want to start the process of negotiating new governance structures and a new relationship with the Crown.

We have written repeatedly to the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, but we haven't received answers to our requests. We have met with and written to the HonourableVic Toews in his role as senior minister for Manitoba. He gave us a commitment in January to find out the status of our claim, and our request to negotiate instead of litigate, but we haven't heard back from him yet.

I don't know how much longer our people can remain patient. For years, we were told we couldn't enter into governance negotiations because of the Manitoba Framework Agreement. That excuse is now gone.

The new specific claims body announced by the federal government will probably take years to get up and running. In the meantime, our case is in limbo.

We don't want confrontation. We know that our best hopes for the future lie in a positive relationship with the federal government. But I can't help wondering if we're taking the wrong approach.

In June, a First Nation community threatened to blockade the main CN line; within days, the federal government made a claim settlement offer. In Caledonia, a $125 million offer was made after a long and bitter occupation of disputed land.

What are First Nations to think when elevated confrontation seems to lead to results, but years of patience and co-operation lead to nothing but silence?

The vast majority of First Nations, including Chemawawin, want to settle our grievances and move forward in a positive manner. We have made our choice.

And now the federal government needs to make a choice. Will it live up to its commitments and work together in a spirit of co-operation, or will it keep sending out the message that confrontation is the way to go?

Chief Clarence Easter

Chemawawin Cree Nation
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Title Annotation:rants and raves; Clarence Easter
Author:Easter, Clarence
Publication:Windspeaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2007
Words:707
Previous Article:Facing problems the key.
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