A B.C. chief says an "aboriginal uprising is inevitable" if Stephen Harper doesn't commit to transforming the relationship between the Crown and First Nations peoples.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, made the remarks in a news release Monday, ahead of the start of a major meeting between First Nations leaders and government officials in Ottawa.
Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called for the modernization of the Indian Act, the century-old legislation which governs relations between Ottawa and First Nations. The prime minister, however, stopped short of calling for its abolition, despite National Chief Shawn Atleo's insistence that the Act is a "painful obstacle to re-establishing any form of meaningful partnership."
Phillip's comments on coming unrest follow other provocative statements made by First Nations leaders ahead of the summit.
Earlier in January, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said Harper must take action soon or risk the prospect of young people taking matters into their own hands. "People are frustrated. If diplomacy fails, we can't speak for what happens beyond that."
The expressions of discontent come on the heals of the widely-publicized housing crisis on the northern Ontario reserve of Attawapiskat. The government responded to the situation by assigning a third-party manager to take control of the reserve's finances.
That move to seize control has garnered widespread criticism from aboriginal leaders, many of whom see the decision as a symptom of a 'we know best' attitude.
The chiefs hope their talks with Harper and senior officials can produce a two-track approach to deliver both short-term fixes for immediate crises and progress toward a fundamentally different long-term relationship within 12 to 18 months.
Immediate challenges could include inadequate funding for housing, child welfare, education and water.
Long-term issues include crafting a pathway to self-governance and recognition of treaty rights, a more reliable fiscal framework, economic development, financial transparency and speeding up talks on comprehensive land claims.
Among other items, chiefs and federal politicians are widely expected to endorse a plan for legislation to give native communities the power to set up their own school boards, and to change the structure of government financing so that it's more predictable.
With files from The Canadian Press
Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and Saskatchewan Native Brad Laroque alias "Freddy Kruger" come face to face in a tense standoff at the Kahnesatake reserve in Oka, Quebec, Saturday September 1, 1990. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Shaney Komulainen)
A warrior raises his weapon as he stands on an overturned police vehicle blocking a highway at the Kahnesetake reserve near Oka, Quebec July 11, 1990 after a police assault to remove Mohawk barriers failed. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson)
A Quebec Metis places a stick with an eagle feather tied to it into the barrel of a machine gun mounted on an army armored vehicle at Oka Thursday, Aug. 23, 1990. The vehicle was one of two positioned a few metres away from the barricade causing a breakdown in negotiations. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Grimshaw)
A Mohawk Indian winds up to punch a soldier during a fight that took place on the Khanawake reserve on Montreal's south shore in 1990. The army broke up the fight by shooting into the air. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (CP PHOTO)
Two aboriginal protesters man a barricade near the entrance to Ipperwash Provincial Park, near Ipperwash Beach, Ont., on Sept. 7, 1995. (CP PHOTO)
Ken Wolf, 9, walks away from a graffiti-covered smoldering car near the entrance to the Ipperwash Provincial Park in this September 7, 1995 photo. A group of aboriginal protesters were occupying the park and nearby military base. (CP PHOTO)
Caledonian activist Gary McHale (right) is confronted by a Six Nations Protester as he attempts to lead members of Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality (CANACE) in carrying a makeshift monument to Six Nations land in Caledonia, Ont., on Sunday February 27, 2011. CANACE claim inequality in treatment for Caledonian residents from Ontario Provincial Police compared to that of the Six Nation population. They planned to plant a monument of six nation property to demand an apology from the OPP, but were turned back by protesters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
First Nations people of the Grand River Territory stand with protest signs as they force the redirection of the Vancover 2010 Olympic Torch Relay from entering The Six Nations land Monday, December 21, 2009 near Caledonia, Ontario. The Olympic torch's journey across Canada was forced to take a detour in the face of aboriginal opposition to the Games, with an Ontario First Nation rerouting its relay amid a protest from a splinter group in the community. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley)
Six Nations protesters guard the front entrance of a housing development in Hagersville, Ont., just south of the 15-month aboriginal occupation at Caledonia on Wednesday, May 23, 2007. The protest was peaceful. (CP PHOTO/Nathan Denette)
Mohawk protestors block a road near the railway tracks near Marysville, Ont. with a bus and a bonfire Friday April 21, 2006. The natives showed their support to fellow natives in Caledonia, Ont. where they were in a stand off with police regarding land claims.(CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward)