Replace Indian Act: AFN national chief

The head of the Assembly of First Nations is calling for a new relationship with the federal government and an end to the Indian Act.
First Nations leaders stand during Tuesday's opening of the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting in Winnipeg. ((CBC))

The head of the Assembly of First Nations is calling for a new relationship with the federal government and an end to the Indian Act within five years.

Shawn Atleo told the assembly's annual meeting in Winnipeg on Tuesday that federal laws governing aboriginal people have led to high rates of suicide, poverty and health problems.

Atleo said he'd like to see aboriginal people get out "from under" the Indian Act and strike a new relationship with the government on land claims, resource sharing and education.

"Is it time to boldly suggest that within two to five years, the Indian Act will no longer be part of our lives?" he said as part of the opening address of the annual assembly.

The national chief said aboriginal people are still fighting for health care, land and other things promised in treaties more than a century ago.

Instead of having legislation or an entire department governing aboriginal lives, Atleo said the federal government should set up agencies to ensure that those promised items are delivered.

"We will once and for all work to dismantle the unnecessary machinery of the Department of Indian Affairs, which only perpetuates our poverty," he said.

"The department then will give way to efficient entities like a ministry of First Nations-Crown relations … and a treaty rights tribunal," he said.

He also wants native people to get more funding from non-government sources, for example, through agreements with corporations.

Drummers perform at the grand entry for the start of the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting. ((CBC))

"At this assembly alone we will advance partnerships to build houses, to create jobs and to better support our students in school," Atleo said.

Star contractor consulted

AFN leaders will announce a deal with a major Canadian home builder Wednesday to address some of the severe housing shortages on reserves. The organization said it is consulting with Canadian professional contractor Mike Holmes and his company The Holmes Group.

Holmes is famous for his televised home-renovation show, Holmes on Homes.

Atleo, a 43-year-old businessman from British Columbia, was elected national chief of the AFN a year ago.

About 2,000 chiefs and other delegates from 633 Canadian First Nations are in Winnipeg for the annual general meeting, which is being held in the city for the first time in 16 years.

Much of the discussion will focus on how to ensure that aboriginal rights to land, resources and self-governance are respected. 

"We are all too quiet. Residential schools quieted us," said Morris Swan-Shannacappo, grand chief of the Southern Chiefs Organization, which represents First Nations communities across southern Manitoba.

"Now let's start making noise and demand a seat in Parliament, and demand a party in Parliament … where our people can be viewed as equals, as original land owners."

The event is expected to draw 6,000 people to the city and create $2.5 million in economic activity in Winnipeg.

In addition to the policy meetings at the Winnipeg Convention Centre from July 20-22, there will be several cultural and entertainment events. There will be a three-day international powwow at The Forks national historic site, a spiritual summit that is expected to draw up to 4,000 people and a rodeo at the Swan Lake First Nation just west of the city in Headingley.