First nations facing 'extinction'Coon Come attacks Ottawa: Liberals blast chief for taking criticism to UN conference
By Justine Hunter, with files from Jane Taber
National Post, August 27, 2001
OTTAWA - Matthew Coon Come, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, will attack Canada's international reputation as a world leader on human rights at the world conference on racism in South Africa this week, saying government policies are threatening Canada's First Nations with extinction.
Mr. Coon Come, the country's foremost native leader, says Canada can hardly lead a debate at the conference on eradicating racism elsewhere when its own aboriginal population is ''faced with the threat of extinction as a result of governmental laws and actions.''
In a statement yesterday before leaving for Durban, Mr. Coon Come added: ''We are traveling to South Africa because we are concerned, once again, that Canada will not tell the full truth about the ongoing racism, and even the ongoing use of state violence, against indigenous peoples by the Canadian state.''
He said racism against the native population in Canada ''direct and systemic, costs thousands of lives per year,'' citing poor health, poverty and an epidemic of youth suicide.
John Finlay, Parliamentary Secretary to Robert Nault, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, said Mr. Coon Come's remarks are unhelpful.
''As long as he maintains this all-or-nothing attitude he's not going to help the process one little bit,'' said Mr. Finlay, a Liberal MP from Ontario.
''I think that if Matthew Coon Come perhaps opened his eyes and went places where things are happening with native people he might get a different view.''
But Judith Sayers, a B.C. native leader, applauded Mr. Coon Come's effort. ''Our children deal with racism every day in the schools. It is here,'' she said. ''I am glad he is going over there to let the world know Canada isn't the leading proponent of human rights like they say they are.''
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada provides $4.9-billion annually in funding and services for aboriginals living on reserves under federal responsibility -- the majority of Canada's 1.4 million natives. When other programs such as health care are included, federal funding adds up to about $7-billion a year.
Betty Hinton, the Canadian Alliance MP who chairs the opposition leader's Advisory Committee on Indian and Northern Affairs, said that level of funding proves Mr. Coon Come wrong.
''I don't agree that this is racism,'' she said about Mr. Coon Come's statements.
The complaints she has heard in discussion with native people over the past four months, she said, are not about racism but about government funding delivered to band councils not getting to the people.
The government gives the money to band councils for social housing, health and dental care, ''but it's not getting to them.''
Relations between the AFN and the federal government have soured in recent months over plans by Robert Nault, the Minister of Indian Affairs, to introduce legislation that will impose fiscal and electoral accountability on native leadership.
Last July, Mr. Coon Come accused the government of carrying out a secret, racist policy to oppress First Nations.'
The AFN, the country's most influential native lobby, is almost fully funded by the federal government so taxpayers are indirectly paying to send its six-member delegation.
Mr. Coon Come urged the government to use its influence at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance -- Aug. 31 to Sept. 7 -- to ensure native leaders can participate fully at the conference.
The Canadian delegation is comprised of Hedy Fry, minister of state for multiculturalism, Jean Augustine, a Toronto Liberal MP, and Irwin Cotler, a Montreal MP and human rights expert.
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Created: August 27, 2001
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