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