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Alternative to AFN called for by Manitoba grand chief

06/06/2013 11:16 EDT | Updated 08/06/2013 05:12 EDT
Manitoba's top aboriginal leader says it's time to create an alternative to the Assembly of First Nations, which some say has become disconnected from the grassroots.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says aboriginal leaders from Western Canada will meet this summer to talk about possibly launching a new aboriginal organization — one that is not funded by the federal government — that would replace the AFN in treaty negotiations.

"I'm not someone, as a grand chief, who can tell a community to remove themselves from the AFN, but I can come forward with new options and alternatives," Nepinak told reporters on Thursday, as he embarked on a 10-day motorcycle tour of First Nations across the Prairies.

"I think that we have an obligation as the people, sitting in positions where we can see what's going on, to provide alternatives that could help to re-empower our people on political levels."

Nepinak said the current First Nations system in Canada doesn't work anymore, and the AFN seems to be more focused on self-preservation and less connected to the people it represents.

Now is the time for a transformation in how First Nations organize and present themselves to federal and provincial governments, he said.

"I've been approached by many chiefs across different regions to move in that direction because the AFN does not seem to be holding the fundamentals of treaty in the highest regard, in terms of attacking some of these policies that are coming out of the provincial and federal governments," he said.

Treaty caravan crossing Prairies

Nepinak made the remarks while launching the Treaty Freedom Caravan, a tour of 40 First Nations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta to raise awareness of treaty rights.

"The treaty caravan is not about politics; it's not about creating division within the AFN," Nepinak said, adding that he doesn't think any new organization should threaten AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo.

"From what I've heard from him, he wants to see a power base where … we see the implementation of treaties happening, we see people becoming empowered, we see leaders becoming empowered," he said of Atleo.

Officials with the Assembly of First Nations did not comment on Thursday, but its regional chief in Manitoba, Bill Traverse, agreed that the status quo is not working.

"The national chief, you know, I believe [he] knows by now the position that I advanced at the national table, at the AFN table … that the different numbered treaties that I represent in Manitoba can speak for themselves on those types of issues," Traverse said.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt said Ottawa remains committed to treaty negotiations.

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