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Future of self government to be decided.

By Len Kruzenga

Windspeaker Contributor


After a few unexpected delays, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will finally be holding its special chief's assembly on the Framework Agreement Initiative (FAI) on April 8 and 9.

They've chosen the Hotel Fort Garry, where the FAI was originally signed, as the site for the special assembly.

That the meeting promises to be a pivotal one for the self government process in the province is highlighted by the fact that the long-awaited consultants report on the FAI process will finally be released.

Speculation regarding the delay in releasing the report--originally expected in February--prepared by independent consultants MAANG and Associates, has fueled speculation that Indian affairs Minister Jane Stewart was on the verge of announcing the cancellation of the FAI agreement, a rumour vigorously denied by Indian affairs sources in Ottawa. It is also rumored that a full one-third of Manitoba chief's are on record as opposing the FAI process in the province, which is also strenuously dismissed by both the FAI office and members of the chief's committee on the FAI.

"I can only tell you that the last meetings on the FAI both at the political and community levels continues to be very positive," said FAI communications officer Joy Keeper.

"People are getting past their original negativity and the misinformation that has been spread and are realizing that the FAI process here is far more comprehensive and profound in nature than anything that is going on elsewhere in Canada."

But the FAI process, once touted as a national template for self government negotiations in the country, stalled shortly after Phil Fontaine's departure to assume leadership of the Assembly of First Nations. And many of the key staff involved in the FAI negotiations followed the new national chief to assume new positions in Ottawa.

"For Phil this process was extremely important to him personally and he drove the activity at the FAI office," said longtime political observer Arnold Cook. "Since he left things just sort of ground to a halt and the chiefs opposed to the deal have really impeded any significant process because Bushie (Grand Chief of the AMC) lacks the dynamism and profile to get things moving."

Another problem the FAI process has experienced is a continuing debate over the $9 million budget of the FAI office.

The Manitoba chief's successfully wrested control of nearly half of the budget two years ago by directing funds to the reserves for community consultations on self government.

However recent revelations in some communities include allegations that community consultations have either not occurred at all, or have been redirected by some chiefs and councils.

But Keeper says the community consultation process continues to demonstrate its importance at the grassroots level as meetings continue to be well attended.

"The people are asking some really good questions and have developed a greater understanding of the process and the advantages self government will have for their communities."

Of particular interest at the assembly will be recommendations in the consultant's report on how to revive self government negotiations between the federal government and the FAI office, which stalled in 1997.

The federal negotiator walked away from the table citing the lack of a mandate to negotiate the terms presented by the FAI office.

That moment highlighted the fundamental ideological difference between the government and the FAI office.

For the FAI office the process is about negotiating comprehensive self government for Manitoba's First Nations and for the government it appears to be about the transfer of administrative control of programs and services to First Nations.

"This is going to be a dor or die moment for the FAI," said Cook, who attended the original FAI signing ceremonies in 1994. "The chief's will have to publicly show that they are fully committed to the process or the whole thing will simply fade away."

The federal government is also expected to be closely monitoring both the mood and the outcome of the assembly before it is prepared to restart negotiations and commit more funding to the process.

"Let's remember, these are politicians who don't want to sink any more time or money into a process unless they have some hope they can come out of it with an agreement that they can get someone political mileage out of," Cook added.

"As it is the feds have committed over $25 million to the FAI process and haven't got anything to show for it. They won't be prepared to do a whole lot more unless the chief's show signs that they're willing to do a deal and quickly before the next election."
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Author:Kruzenga, Len
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Apr 1, 1999
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