APTN National News
MONCTON,NB.-The federal government is willing to explore scrapping the Indian Act and the department of Aboriginal Affairs if that is the will of First Nations chiefs, according to Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue.
Assembly of First National national Chief Shawn Atleo made the call to scrap the Indian Act and the Aboriginal Affairs department on the first day of the organization’s gathering.
The AFN released a document Tuesday broadly outlining a plan to replace the department and the Indian Act with a new agreement between First Nations and the Crown that would create a new way to deliver services to First Nations citizens.
Penashue, who was asked by the prime minister to attend the Assembly of First Nations’ annual gathering, said the federal government was currently focused on improving and amending the Indian Act to better the dire situation facing many First Nations communities.
The former Innu leader and lone Conservative MP from Newfoundland and Labrador, however, said the government would explore Atleo’s ambitious goals.
“(Atleo) is the national chief and he has the assembly of chiefs working under him and if that is the direction he is looking to go then obviously it has to be explored,” said Penashue. “From a governmental point of view, the most important thing is that we work toward supporting and improving what is in the Indian Act, and amendments to the Indian Act, so we can make the process work more effectively for First Nations right across the country.”
Penashue said he was involved in plans to hold a historic gathering between First Nations leaders and the prime minister.
Atleo has indicated he believes the meeting will be pivotal moment in the relationship between First Nations and Canada and he expects the meeting to be a major step toward his stated mission to radically alter the structural and political relationship between Ottawa and First Nations.
Penashue said he expects Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan will be open to Atleo’s proposals.
“That the national chief is proposing a different route and a new initiative, that is something that has be looked at and I am sure the prime minister and the Aboriginal Affairs minister will look at it in that context,” said Penashue. “The assembly will decide what their national strategy is, their national chief says he is interested in abolishing the Indian Act, that is the assembly’s position (and) the government will take it and see how we can best deal with the Constitutional responsibilities.”
Penashue spoke briefly to the chiefs on Wednesday, delivering a prepared message on behalf of Duncan, who was unable to attend.
Atleo, playing a single beat on a drum, sang Penashue a prayer song.
“I find it remarkable that in minister Penashue we have a former grand chief and deputy grand chief who is now a minister of the Crown and we welcome him and invite and welcome him back to the assembly that also belongs to him as an Innu man,” said Atleo.