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

Aboriginal leaders shut out of First Ministers Conference

OTTAWA - Representatives from Canada's three main aboriginal organizations were excluded from a First Ministers Conference on health this month. One national leader said Prime Minister Chr?tien is further alienating "the poorest of the poor."

Charles Fox, the Assembly of First Nations Vice-chief for the Ontario Region, said that the AFN, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the M?tis National Council were not invited to participate in the Feb. 3 conference on health reform because Chr?tien said in the House of Commons that he did not think they should be directly involved.

"We need a process with the First Ministers to develop a health care framework," said Fox. "We were going in with a positive attitude and were turned away, which is a shame because we have some creative ideas that if we worked together would benefit the entire community."

Fox said there have been countless studies and commissions looking at aboriginal health care in Canada, the most recent being the Romano Natives in northern Canada and on poor rural reserves. Aboriginal leaders in Canada have traditionally argued that health care is also a treaty right that should not be excluded from the First Ministers Conference on health.

Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik, North West Territories Premier Stephen Kakfwi and Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie walked out of the conference in protest over the snub to Canada's 1.4 million Aboriginals. All three Canadian territories have high Aboriginal populations.

"The goings-on of the past few days speak volumes about how Canada's First Peoples are treated - how they are excluded, ignored, and dismissed - by the federal government," said AFN National Chief Matthew Coon Come in a Feb. 6 press release. "Going back to 1969, as Minister of Indian Affairs, Prime Minister Chr?tien has failed to meaningfully address the most basic needs of a people he claims to care about."

First Ministers Conferences are called periodically on issues of national importance that cross lines of federal and provincial jurisdiction and include the Prime Minister, the provincial premiers and the three territorial premiers. Representatives of the aboriginal community are required by law to be consulted at a First Ministers Conference when the policy generated directly affects or is targeted at them.

Yukon project to study alternative energy source

WHITEHORSE, Yukon - The government of Canada has announced that it will contribute $99,426 (Cdn.) to study the feasibility of wind power to generate electricity in the Aboriginal community of Old Crow.

Larry Bagnell, Member of Parliament for the Yukon, said the money for the study would be matched and funneled through the Vuntut Development Corp., an enterprise of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, in partnership with the Yukon Energy Corp.

A statement released by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada said the 300 residents of Old Crow are dependent on diesel oil and wood for electricity, heating and cooking. The emissions from this and other northern communities was said to be contributing significantly to global warming and the study is seen as a positive step in developing environmentally friendly, renewable energy sources.

"The study demonstrates how government is working in partnership with the First Nations and northerners to improve their quality of life in a variety of ways," said Bagnell.

Survey says ?

OTTAWA - Minster of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Robert D. Nault released the results of the third national survey of First Nations people living on reserves on Feb. 10.

The number of respondents was based on 1,507 telephone interviews. Reserve dwellers answered they felt education was the key to an increased quality of life for future generations. First Nations people said they felt early childhood education was also a necessary element in giving children a boost starting out in life.

According to the survey results, First Nations people considered education to be the key to protecting and preserving their culture, but at the same time said they felt they had limited opportunities to complete a quality education.

Other themes of the survey included First Nations priorities for the federal government, opinions of federal government performance, communications preferences, the importance of First Nations communities, health related issues and environmental issues.

The highlights of the survey are available www.ainc-inac.gc.ca.

Matrimonial property information released

OTTAWA - A pamphlet has been released by Indian and Northern Affairs called "After Marriage Breakdown: Information on the On-Reserve Matrimonial Home" to provide information on an individual's rights once a marriage or common-law relationship ends. A statement from INAC said people living on reserves have fewer rights when marriage and common-law relationships breakdown than those off-reserve.

"The objective of this document is to create awareness and provide information to First Nations people on a subject that really matters to them," said INAC Minister Robert Nault in a Feb. 3 statement. "While it does not suggest options or solutions, it does provide background legal information so First Nations individuals and leadership can talk together and find ways to address concerns."

Nault is also targeting the problem through the First Nations Land Management Act that would allow First Nations to enact matrimonial property laws for their communities.

Copies can be requested by contacting Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Women's Issues and Gender Equality, Les Terssasses de la Chaudiere, 5th Floor, Room 5-B-02 or by phoning (819) 953-9857.