Don't ignore Native discontent, prof warns PM

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs talks to reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, January 18, 2013

Credits: REUTERS/Patrick Doyle


WINNIPEG -- As a Manitoba Grand Chief threatens to ramp up Idle No More demonstrations across the country, a local professor worries the prime minister could be "playing with fire" if he doesn't act soon.

"I'm worried that Harper is playing with fire by refusing to accommodate," said Peter Kulchyski, a University of Manitoba native studies professor.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Derek Nepinak has warned protests will intensify if a meeting they've requested with Harper and the Governor General this week doesn't occur.

Kulchyski said discontent with federal policies governing aboriginal people has sparked a cycle of grassroots activism over the last several decades, at times turning violent, followed by some attempt at conciliation.

"There has to be a fundamental change in direction and until that happens, the situation is going to escalate," Kulchyski said.

Disputes are also brewing within the Idle No More movement. On Tuesday, the AMC started a two-day meeting set to discuss whether the national Assembly of First Nations should speak for them during treaty negotiations and a potential non-confidence vote on National Chief Shawn Atleo's leadership.

Several chiefs opposed Atleo's decision to meet with Harper on Jan. 11, even though the demand that meeting include Gov.-Gen. David Johnston wasn't met.

The AMC meeting also aims to develop a concrete Manitoba position on treaty issues with the federal government.

"It's just fine-tuning our position now and I think there's all aspects being looked at ... I'm optimistic we'll leave here with something," Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Donovan Fontaine told Sun News.

Meanwhile, others have questioned the decision of RCMP and city police officers to stand back and monitor protests, instead of disbanding them and/or making arrests.

But Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he has no plans to direct local law enforcement efforts.

"It is a policing matter," said Toews. "As minister of public safety, I'm responsible for the RCMP but I do not direct their police investigations or the laying of any criminal charges."

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