By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A senior aide to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rebuked Canada for its treatment of Aboriginal people in a letter to former Ojibway chief Terrance Nelson who is running for the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations.
The letter, signed by Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, chief of staff to Ahmadinejad, accused Canada of committing “systematic segregation and discrimination” against Aboriginal people.
“I would like to reiterate my deep sorrow and sadness about the unfortunate violation of the basic human rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada,” wrote Mashaei, in the letter which was obtained by APTN National News. “The basic standards of services, for instance, health care, education and security, provided to the First Nations peoples in comparison with what is offered to the mainstream Canadians…is a clear indication of the systemic segregation and discrimination and a cause of concern for any neutral observer.”
Ahmadinejad’s presidential office sent the letter, written in Farsi, to the Iranian embassy which delivered it to Nelson through an intermediary.
APTN National News obtained an English-language version translated by the embassy. While the translated version is not dated, Mashaei notes he is writing in response to a letter Nelson delivered to the Iranian embassy on March 12.
Nelson’s letter, addressed to Ahmadinejad, was “acknowledged” by the president, Mashaei wrote.
Nelson, the former chief of Roseau River First Nation in Manitoba, has been speaking out publicly against looming war against Iran over its nuclear program. He says he’s reaching out to Tehran in hopes of securing political and financial support in his quest to attract foreign investment for impoverished First Nations reserves in Canada. Nelson says a relationship with Tehran could help First Nations find new sources of investment from nations belonging to the OPEC oil cartel.
Nelson wouldn’t immediatly comment on the letter, but said he plans to hold a press conference on the issue Wednesday.
The Ojibway leader’s immediate goal, however, is to secure an invitation to speak to the Iranian parliament about Canada’s treatment of Aboriginal people. Iranian officials at the Ottawa embassy issued a statement after their meeting with Nelson saying his request was being considered by government officials.
The letter makes no mention of Nelson’s request for the visit. Mashaei, however, noted Nelson’s efforts in trying to court international opinion and hoped it would eventually sway Canada to change its ways.
“After a long history of peaceful endeavor at home, now you have been forced to seek assistance from international public opinion to try to secure your basic human rights,” writes Mashaei. “I hope your humane and sincere efforts will make the Canadian government to take the necessary steps to fulfill its domestic and international commitments…leading to the eradication of this historic and inhumane discrimination against the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.”
Nelson has also been reaching out to the Muslim community in Canada in hopes of securing financial and political support. He declared his candidacy for AFN national chief at a Toronto-area mosque on Good Friday. The election is scheduled for this July.
Nelson has also advocated direct confrontation with the Canadian government, authoring the 2007 National Day of Action resolution passed by the AFN which lead the shutdown of a main highway and railway line in Ontario by Mohawks from Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont.
Nelson’s community, however, did not launch blockades because Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jim Prentice agreed to transfer several hectares of long-claimed land to Roseau River.
Mashaei himself is a controversial and powerful figure within Iranian politics. Mashaei is viewed by some as a potential presidential contender during the next presidential race in 2013, according to a diplomatic cable from the U.S. State Department, which was released by WikiLeaks.
A former Intelligence Ministry official responsible for dealing with regions facing high ethnic tensions, Mashaei developed a close friendship with Ahmadinejad which allowed him to move up the political ladder and survive political attacks from the country’s conservative religious factions who have been angered by his comments on Israel and Islam, according to an analysis by U.S. public-broadcaster PBS. Mashaei is viewed as part of a political faction that wants to erode the power Islamic clerics currently wield over Iran’s governance, according to the PBS analysis.
In 2009, Ahmadinejad appointed Mashaei as his first vice-president following the disputed presidential elections that year. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei forced Mashaei’s resignation after one week. Ahmadinejad then appointed him as his chief of staff.
Iran has, over the years, repeatedly called out Canada over the treatment of Aboriginal people. In the mid-1920s, Iran, then known as Persia, supported a request by Haudenosaunee hereditary Chief Deskaheh to have the League of Nations consider a Six Nations Confederacy for formal membership as a state. The attempt eventually failed, and the federal government dissolved the Six Nations Confederacy Council and imposed an Indian Act band government.
Iran, however, has a history of repressing its own Indigenous population.
The Iranian Kurds, which occupy the northwestern region of Iran, have faced repression from both the Iranian government under the Shah and the Islamic Republic that emerged after the Shah was overthrown.
Iranian Kurds, who have tried to establish a degree of autonomy in Iran, faced not only violent repression and the assassination of its political leaders, but also systemic discrimination in everything from employment to political participation, according to Amnesty International.
Kurdish regions are economically neglected, Kurds have “restricted access to adequate housing,” and Iran bans parents from registering their children with select Kurdish names, according to the human rights group.