Roseau River First Nation Chief Terry Nelson
Credits: Marcel Cretain / Winnipeg Sun / QMI Agency
WINNIPEG – First Nations and Jewish community leaders are speaking out against accusations that the Canadian government is attempting to "exterminate" Aboriginal Peoples.
At least two Manitoba community leaders say the comments made by former chiefs Terry Nelson (Roseau River) and Dennis Pashe (Dakota Tipi) on Iranian state television Sunday were completely unacceptable.
The comments included a description of reserves as "concentration camps."
"I'm scared to even compare that tragedy with our history," Birdtail Sioux First Nation Chief Kenneth Chalmers said of the Holocaust. "That's not acceptable. It's totally different. We're not lining up for gas chambers."
The leader of the Assiniboine River Valley community said the pair's claim Canada's 600 murdered and missing First Nations women are evidence of an effort to wipe out Aboriginal Peoples from the
Canadian population are equally misguided.
"That's way out there too. The exploitation of our women is not a government program," said Chalmers. "The economic situations our people are in makes them open for exploitation."
Nelson and Pashe travelled to Tehran, Iran, last week to highlight what they believe to be Canada's human rights abuses against aboriginals, defying the federal government's suspension of diplomatic relations with the country.
Chalmers said he's concerned the trip will hamper the progress made on legitimate aboriginal concerns, including poverty and a lack of adequate reserve housing.
Current Dakota Tipi First Nation Chief Cornell Pashe, Dennis Pashe's cousin, agreed.
"We've worked long and hard to be where we're at,” he said. “We have to work realistically to resolve issues. Sure, injustices have occurred, but it's the past and we have to work within the current system."
Jeffrey Smith, of the Calgary Jewish Federation, said Nelson's comments linking Canada's human rights record to Iran's is an insult to all Canadians.
"For him to go to a country like Iran, which is probably one of the world's foremost human rights abusers, and use that as a platform, I think it's not helpful at all to the challenges that the First
Nations find themselves with in Canada," said Smith.
A spokeswoman for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said Grand Chief Derek Nepinak was unavailable when contacted by QMI Agency.
Nepinak told CBC on Tuesday that he doesn't agree with Nelson's controversial statements.
"I don't think it necessarily represents the views or perspectives of the bulk of indigenous people that live here," he said.
"I think we live here peacefully within western Canadian society, and I think some of the messaging is not doing any good."
-- With files from Nicole Dube