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First Nations have right to resources, Atleo says

01/25/2012 09:57 EST | Updated 03/26/2012 05:12 EDT

First Nations are more than just stakeholders and have rights to resource development that must be recognized, Shawn Atleo said Wednesday.

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says the chiefs who met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Tuesday told him they have real rights through their treaties when it comes to pipeline and mining projects.

"Right now, government feels that through their actions and through their regulatory processes and licences that First Nations are simply stakeholders," Atleo said.

"That simply is not the case. The treaty relationship said that we would be full partners in designing and determining what would happen within our respective territories and that First Nations would benefit from the wealth and from the resources of the land."

Atleo pointed to the notion of having free, prior and informed consent over what happens in First Nations territories.

Atleo said the participants in a Crown-First Nations gathering Tuesday in Ottawa knew that not all problems would be dealt with in one day, but now it's time to move away from "harsh, colonial actions" that result in deep suffering by First Nations people.

But the promises outlined in the joint agreement have to be implemented, he said.

"You cannot take any one of these commitments in isolation," Atleo said.

Broad principles

The Crown and First Nations agreed to broad principles but committed to few specific steps to reach the goals they set out.

They agreed they would look to "education and opportunity" to improve success among First Nations and create conditions to speed up economic development.

There was no mention of resource sharing, although at the closing press conference Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan pointed to land management rights agreements the government has signed with 55 First Nations. Duncan said that for those First Nations, a full quarter of the Indian Act no longer applies.

They also said they would take away barriers to self-government, find common ground on treaty implementation and work together on recommendations from a report to be released on First Nations kindergarten to Grade 12 education.

Atleo said the promise to work on resolving land claims and implementing treaties is important.

"You can’t disconnect a conversation about economics or major resource development without looking to the issue of land negotiations. The current process, First Nations feel, is deeply flawed. It is unfair. It has not kept pace with changes even in common law.

"These are inextricably linked to one another. The outstanding issue of generating wealth from the lands that First Nations have not participated in, the very poverty that we have seen in places like Attawapiskat, [they] are located but 70 plus kilometres from one of the most major mines in this country," Atleo said.

A progress report will be released on the Crown-First Nations gathering's commitments on Jan. 24, 2013.

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