A former Manitoban First Nations leader has raised the ire of Canadian officials with his appearance on Iranian television comparing aboriginal reserves to concentration camps.
Terry Nelson, former chief of Manitoba's Roseau River Anishinabe, made the comments during an interview on Sunday with Iranian Press TV in Tehran.
"The reservations were originally more or less concentration camps," Nelson said in the interview.
Nelson has been leading a delegation of First Nations trying to create closer ties with Iran. In March, the group visited the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa.
More recently Nelson was in Iran, where during the TV interview he said widespread discrimination against aboriginal people in Canada has escalated since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office in 2006.
He also said there are more chances for First Nations youth to be incarcerated than to graduate from high school.
"There's no real economic development on reserves, so the reservations mostly have between 60 and 95 per cent unemployment," he said.
"This is the root cause of the artificial poverty that's on reserves. It is economic sanctions."
The Iranian television network also interviewed Dennis Pashe, a former chief of the Dakota Tipi First Nation in Manitoba.
A spokesman for John Duncan, Canada's aboriginal affairs minister, told CBC News the federal government is "disappointed that Mr. Nelson has allowed himself to be used as a pawn by the Iranian regime in yet another PR stunt to distract from their own record.
"Since 2006, our government has taken concrete steps to create the conditions for healthier, more self-sufficient First Nation communities, including legislation to protect the rights of women on reserve and improve financial transparency," Jason MacDonald said in an email.
'Canada will not take lessons from Iran'
MacDonald also said Ottawa has provided "billions in investments to ensure safe drinking water, improved K-12 education, and greater opportunities for aboriginal participation in the economy.
"We continue to work with First Nations to improve the opportunities for them to achieve the prosperity they seek and that Canada needs," he said.
"Canada will not take lessons from Iran, with its record of brutal human rights abuses and terrorism."
Closer to home, the Manitoba government said the province is not interested in weighing in on Nelson's comments.
The grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Derek Nepinak, said while Nelson is entitled to his opinion, he doesn't share that view.
While there are real issues that need to be addressed on reserves, Nelson's methods might do more harm than good, Nepinak said.
"I don't think it necessarily represents the views or perspectives of the bulk of indigenous people that live here. I think we live here peacefully within western Canadian society, and I think some of the messaging is not doing any good," he said.
Nelson said aboriginal Canadians must follow the lead of native Americans to highlight their human-rights concerns and make friends outside of North America, which is why he and Pashe came to Iran.
"The Iranian people have been dehumanized and essentially demonized in the Western press, and a lot of people have told us that we shouldn't come here; that our lives would be in danger," Nelson told the TV network.
"We are going to go where we need to go to be able to have the voice of the First Nations heard."