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News from the North: A digest of First Nations news from Canada

National Chief expresses concern over C-6 passage

OTTAWA - Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine said he was "dismayed" over the passage of the Specific Claims Resolution Act designated Bill C-6 on Oct. 22.

"This inherently flawed legislation is unworkable, and the principles behind it are in need of serious examination and more extensive consultation with the First Nations and other interested parties before an attempt is made to introduce this type of legislation," said Fontaine.

In a statement released immediately following the passage of C-6 in the Canadian Senate, Fontaine does not create an independent claims process because the legislation allows the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs and the federal government to unilaterally appoint claims commissioners rather than a joint appointment process with the First Nations.

First Nations leaders have also been very critical of the cap on claims in the SCRA. Claims will be limited to $10 million while placing no restrictions on the amount of time taken to resolve a claim. Fontaine called for building on existing work and addressing the pressing needs of First Nation's health care, housing, education and economic development.

The SCRA as amended will now return to the House of Commons for final approval. The "suite" of new Indian law in Canada, including reforms on governance, fiscal institutions and the SCRA were intended to update the Indian Act. The First Nations have criticized the suite of new Indian laws as failing to implement treaty rights and undermining tribal sovereignty.

M?tis National Council welcomes new president

WINNEPEG, Manitoba - Clem Chartier was elected president of the M?tis National Council in a unanimous decision on Oct. 24.

President Chartier has served as the President of the M?tis Nation - Saskatchewan since 1998 and is a past president of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. Most recently, Chartier has acted as the MNC co-counsel on the landmark R. v. Powley and R. v. Blais cases concerning the Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights of the M?tis people.

"This is a turning pointing our relationships with governments in Canada," said Chartier of the recent M?tis victory in the Supreme Court of Canada in his acceptance speech. "The choice is clear. Litigation or negotiation. We have always preferred the latter."

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine congratulated Chartier and called for "a united front" between the aboriginal advocacy groups to help both groups "move forward together into a new era of respect and understanding."

Gerald Morin, the previous M?tis president, was removed from office following an alcohol-related domestic violence incident in an Ottawa hotel in January of this year.

Yukon First Nation self-government agreement finalized

WHITEHORSE, Yukon - The Carcross/Tagish First Nation completed the next phase of the self-government process by initializing an agreement with negotiators from the territorial and federal governments on Oct. 30.

The agreement, 30 years in the making, will now head to the Carcross/Tagish membership for final approval.

"By working together, we have proven that progress and advancement is not only achievable, but inevitable," said Khaa Shaa H?ni Chief of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation of the arduous negotiation process. "This is a milestone in the First Nation regaining meaningful and equitable participation in determining what happens in our Traditional Territory."

According to a statement from the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs, provisions of the agreement includes: the commitment to establish Special Management Areas for the Kusawa Lake, Snafu/Tarfu lakes and Lewes McClintock areas; participation in the previously established Yukon River Watershed Management Working Group to address headwaters concerns; participation in the Southern Lakes Wildlife Co-coordinating Committee; and the commitment to establish a Habitat Protection Area in the Tagish Narrows to protect waterfowl habitat.

The Carcross/Tagish will also retain a 602 square mile reserve and receive $23.74 million adjusted for inflation over the next 15 years.

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation has a total population of 561 and is located approximately 218 miles southeast from the territorial capital of Whitehorse.

Second First Nation wins logging dispute

FREDERICTON, New Brunswick - Two First Nations loggers from the Woodstock First Nation, a Maliseet community, won an important court ruling on Nov. 3 upholding their right to harvest wood from Crown land.

Justice Judy Clendenning of the Court of Queen's Bench upheld the acquittals of Dale Sappler and Clark Polchies or stealing logs from Crown land in 2002. Justice Clendenning ruled the interpretation of a lower court judge that it was within the treaty rights of First Nations citizens to harvest logs on government controlled land historically occupied by their First Nation. The wood was to be used to build new homes on the Woodstock's reserve.

The ruling differed from an earlier decision this in the province where an appeal's court ruled First Nations loggers had the right to sell the logs for profit as part of their treaty rights to make a moderate living from the hunting, fishing and gathering on Crown property.

Woodstock First Nation Chief Jeff Tomah could not be reached for comment, but said in earlier interview with the Canadian Press he hoped the decision would hopefully encourage the province to negotiate new logging agreements with the First Nations in New Brunswick in good faith.