A digest of First Nations news from Canada

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British Columbia First Nation targeted by fishing industry

CHILLIWACK, British Columbia - A spokeswoman for the Cheam First Nation is saying allegations the band is stockpiling weapons are nothing more than racial profiling by commercial and sport fishing industries in the province.

Cheam spokeswoman June Quipp told Indian Country Today the allegations are nothing more than tactics being used by the fishing industries to foster hate against her people and is dramatically more insidious than press exaggeration.

"It is racial profiling by industry organizations that see the Cheam as competition," said Quipp. They take the majority of the fish and the DFO only listens to them."

Quipp also said DFO enforcement agents and the courts have unfairly targeted the Cheam for prosecution for violating the closure of the Frasier River salmon fishery and resisting complying with a safety agreement for enforcement measures. The agreement was worked out in 1999 and approved in 2000 following violent clashes between the Cheam and DFO enforcement agents, but is still being resisted by the latter.

"We have been in compliance since the beginning," said Quipp, the key figure in working out the safety agreement. "The officers don't like the agreement because they are from an agency with aggressive enforcement tactics and they have had to change. They say it hinders their enforcement duties but they can come on the reserve and collect data and take pictures of anyone.

"There have been more charges against us since the agreement was passed than in the eight years before us - we get charged and get criminal records while charges against others are dropped by the courts."

There is some foundation to the Cheam claim they are not being treated fairly in the courts over fisheries issues. So far this year the Court of Queen's Bench in British Columbia has refused to prosecute two groups of non-Native fisherman that held protest salmon harvests in the Frasier River. The latest dismissal occurred only days before the article containing the accusations of weapons stockpiling.

The report in question was published in the Globe and Mail on July 25 and featured comments made by former DFO sport fishing advisor Bill Otway of the Sport Fishing Defense Alliance. Otway said he had reliable information the Cheam were acquiring and storing sniper rifles and described the hunting and fishing community as an armed camp, but would not say exactly where he had acquired the information or if it had been independently confirmed.

Otway, who could not be reached for comment by ICT, said in the same article Ottawa needed to dispatch military units to the area to maintain order.

Native education memorandum of understanding signed

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The importance placed on relations between the First Nations and British Columbia remained high on July 24 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on education for Aboriginal students.

The MOU announced by British Columbia Minister of Education and Deputy Premier Christy Clark, federal Indian Affairs Minister Robert D. Nault and the First Nations Education Steering Committee, will grant greater control and influence over the education of Native students in kindergarten through grade 12 to the First Nations. The agreement also paves the way for increased First Nations influence over the educations of their off-reserve membership.

"The MOU signed today in British Columbia is the first of its kind," said Nault in a prepared statement. "I am confident this approach could serve as a model for other provinces and we will someday look back at this MOU as a real turning point that benefits generations of First Nations students."

All parties said they were committed to increasing the quality education for First Nations students and the transfer of control was key ingredient to improved classroom performance.

Agreement-in-Principle reached

PRINCE GEORGE, British Columbia - The Lheidli T'enneh First Nation, the Government of Canada and British Columbia announced on July 26 the parties have reached a preliminary agreement towards a final treaty as relations with some other bands in the province have reached a new low.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs, the land component of the proposed settlement, the first to be signed under the provinces new treaty process, is approximately 10,000 acres with the opportunity to acquire an additional 379 acres from willing sellers.

Resource management including wildlife and fish, culture and governance were also included in the agreement.

"Signing the Agreement-in-Principal is an important step for our people and for all the people in the Prince George region and throughout British Columbia," said Lheidli T'enneh Chief Barry Seymour at the AIP's announcement.

"We plan to finalize a treaty in the next 12 to 18 months that will create economic certainty and opportunities for us all."

Spokesman for British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell Mike Morton told Indian Country Today the signing of the agreement is only the fourth out of six steps needed before a treaty is signed and some aspects of a final treaty still have to be determined.

Morton confirmed the membership of the band must also approve any final treaty.

"We have agreed on the over-riding principles and now its time to work out the details," said Morton.

Client consent initiative deadline extended

OTTAWA - Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine has not been sitting on his hands since his election only two weeks ago at the organization's general assembly in Edmonton.

Fontaine and Minister of Health Anne McLellan announced in a July 25 joint statement the extension of the deadline for the Non-Insured Health Benefits Program client consent initiative until March 1, 2004. The extension was reached following discussions between the National Chief and Ottawa immediately following his election on July 16.

According to information provided by the AFN, the extension takes into account the Health Canada requirement to have authorization from First Nations clients for the use of their personal health information to provide benefits and ensure patient safety, while allowing for revisions tot eh existing consent materials to address First Nations concerns.

"Today's announcement reflects Health Canada's clear commitment to a collaborative process to protect the health and privacy of its First Nations and Inuit clients," said McLellan.

Fontaine, who has close ties to the ruling Liberal party, was elected on a platform that called for improved communications and reconciliation between the AFN and Ottawa.

Please forward your comments our questions on News from the North to Robert J. Taylor at rtaylo16@twcny.rr.com.