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News from the North

M?tis aboriginal hunting rights confirmed

OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in a 9-0 decision on Sept. 19 that members of the M?tis Nation have the right to hunt for food in the same manner as other Aboriginal communities.

The decision requires M?tis hunters be able to prove a direct link to historic M?tis communities still in existence, but has precedent-setting implications for the recognition of other Aboriginal rights for the M?tis from fishing to resource management rights.

The justices upheld lower court decisions that had determined the inclusion of the M?tis as an Aboriginal people in the Constitution Act of 1982 extended the right to hunt for food out of provincial hunting season without a license in the same manner as other Aboriginal peoples.

"The decision is a great victory for the M?tis Nation," said interim president and spokesperson for the M?tis National Council Audrey Poitras. "The governments of Canada can no longer refuse to negotiate with the M?tis Nation and treat us as though we don't have any Aboriginal rights.

"Those days are over."

The M?tis also successfully argued the small number of their hunters posed no threat to big game stocks of deer and moose as lawyers for the federal government and all but one provincial government had argued.

The case, Regina v. Powley, developed from the 1993 conviction of Steve and Roddy Powley for killing a bull moose out of season and without a provincial hunting license near Sault St. Marie, Ontario. The court, however, refused to hear a similar case, Regina v. Blais, but a statement from Poitras said there was still language in that decision that would strengthen the M?tis Nation and its 300,000 members across Canada.

Complete copies of both decisions can be found on the M?tis Nation Council Web site at metisnation.ca.

Fontaine office budget criticized

OTTAWA - Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine has been drawing fire from all fronts for his proposed office budget of $900,000.

"This does not make sense and does not respect the very poor circumstances that many people on reserves are facing," said member of Parliament John Duncan, the Canadian Alliance party's Native affairs critic.

The hefty price tag includes $300,000 in severance packages for non-political staffers fired after Fontaine's election this summer and $250,000 in renovations to his office and the assembly's headquarters building that were started in Fontaine's previous administration in 2000.

Roberta Jamieson, elected chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, who placed second on the ballot to Fontaine said to reporters there are financial needs on reserves and that the National Chief would answer to the chiefs for his spending.

One of those chiefs, Sub-Chief for Ontario Charles Fox questioned why Fontaine needed to increase his personal staff to 18.

Fontaine's Chief of Staff Manny Jules said the spending was necessary to be fair to the fired staff and let visitors to the AFN know they were visiting "a national institution" and that the amount was under review and would likely be reduced by Ottawa anyway.

Federal money supporting the AFN fell from $19 million during Fontaine's previous term to $6 million under his predecessor Matthew Coon Come. The cutbacks were considered by many to be the result of Coon Come's confrontational approach to dealings with the federal government while others have remained cynical of Fontaine's close political and personal ties to the federal Liberal Party.

Heir apparent ready to take power

OTTAWA - Paul Martin secured enough delegates at the Liberal Party's convention Sept. 20 - 21 to guarantee his bid to replace the retiring Jean Chr?tien as the party's leader and next Prime Minister.

Martin's victory should be a source of optimism for the First Nations based on his public statements opposing how the current regime's formulation of the "suite" of Indian legislation including the First Nations Governance Act and the Specific Claims Resolution Act.

A fiscal conservative, businessman and former finance minister, Martin previously said the proposed legislation warranted "serious rethinking" before Parliament recessed for the summer. Many First Nations and national Aboriginal leaders have protested and are opposed to the laws as threats to their sovereignty.

Martin, vowing a more open government, has his transition team in place already despite the fact that Chr?tien does not plan to retire until February 2004 and the leadership convention is not scheduled until November 2003.

Judge orders continued consultation

CAMPBELL RIVER, British Columbia - The Supreme Court of British Columbia handed down a decision on Sept. 21 defeating a lawsuit filed by the Heiltsuk First Nation to stop a commercial fishery from opening a land-based hatchery that would impact their reserve.

The Heiltsuk filed their suit against Ottawa and Omega on the contention the First Nation was not adequately consulted before the facility was constructed.

"Despite being well informed about the importance of this area to the Heiltsuk, the blatant disregard for our title and rights felt like a slap in the face," said Heiltsuk spokesman Philip Hogan when the suit was filed.

Omega Chairman Russell Crum respectfully disagreed and said his company was hoping for increased understanding from the Heiltsuk following the decision by Madame Justice Laura B. Gerow.

"Omega Salmon Group wants to reaffirm its strong commitment to work with First Nations in order to achieve solutions of benefit to both parties," Crum said. "It was unfortunate that the Band, the company and the provincial government had been unable to work out an accommodation among themselves on this important initiative.

"The fact is that there is simply no real winner when the courts are forced to intervene in a dispute among parties like this."

The Heiltsuk, formerly know as the Bella Bella Indians, inhabit an area of the central coastal region of British Columbia. The band's population had fallen to as low as 200 following an influenza epidemic in 1918 that cost the lives of over 85 percent of its citizens.

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