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Phil Fontaine dismantles Department of Indian Affairs in Manitoba

Don't be fooled by his soft-spoken and conciliatory manner. Phil Fontaine has been a dominant force in native politics since the 1970s. The Manitoba chief who once admitted to being petrified of public speaking was one of the first to speak publicly about residential school abuse. From masterminding the death of Meech Lake to dismantling the Department of Indian Affairs in Manitoba, the tenacious leader of Canada's most powerful native group has orchestrated key deals aimed at improving the quality of life for his people.

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Christmas comes early for Manitoba Grand Chief Phil Fontaine. On Dec. 7, 1994, Fontaine and Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin sign a historic agreement aimed at dismantling the influence of the Department of Indian Affairs in Manitoba. The revolutionary document, to be used as a blue print for other native communities, will begin the process of developing and recognizing self-government for Manitoba's 60 Indian bands.

"With the signing of this accord, the inherent right of First Nations to exercise the powers of self-government... is about to come into fruition," says Fontaine in this CBC Radio report. 
• As the grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Fontaine was the leader of the second most powerful native group after the Assembly of First Nations.
• With the historic agreement, Ottawa agreed to the creation of 60 band governments in Manitoba. It also agreed to work towards transferring all the legislative, executive and judicial powers needed for native self-government.


• As of 2005 the agreement has not yet been fully implemented. Manitoba's 60 Indian bands and Ottawa are still in the process of determining how to best transfer federal powers for native self-rule.
• Critics of the initiative, which only applies to the province of Manitoba, said Fontaine's deal undermined native unity and reduced bargaining power at the national level.

• The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is a highly decentralized organization aimed at improving the quality of life of native people. Created in 1966, the department oversees issues such as past grievances and the discrepancies in living standards between First Nations and Inuit and non-aboriginal people. Although it seeks to promote skills towards native self-government, many natives see the department as a hindrance to native self-rule.
Medium: Radio
Program: Canada at Five
Broadcast Date: Dec. 7, 1994
Guests: Phil Fontaine
Host: Raphi Vigod
Reporter: Curt Petrovich
Duration: 1:50

Last updated: December 11, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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