Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw

Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw
Cardinal Communication

January 24, 2012 11:30 ET

Canada-Atikamekw Sipi Relationship: The Government Needs to Take a Different Turn

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Jan. 24, 2012) - In the context of the "Crown-First Nations Gathering", the Grand Chief of the Atikamekw nation, Eva Ottawa, and the Manawan Chief Paul-Émile Ottawa, Opitciwan Chief Simon Awashish and Wemotaci Chief David Boivin, have reminded the federal government to immediately initiate a new turn for the establishment of a genuine "nation-to-nation" relationship. "Our people will not let yet another generation live in dependence and suffer discrimination. If the government refuses to act, we will have to act", declared Grand Chief Eva Ottawa.

The Atikamekw Chiefs reminded that, since the Indian Act has been in force, this people has been forced to limit itself to three small land parcels located in remote areas of the Mauricie, Bois-Francs and Lanaudière regions. We have never handed over our territories that we occupy since time immemorial; we have never exchanged our territories. The resources have been spoiled without our agreement", specified Grand Chief Atikamekw.

The land claims of the Atikamekw people have been the subject of official talks with the governments of Quebec and Canada for more than 30 years now. The Atikamekw Chiefs wish that the "Crown-First Nations Gathering" will be a prelude to a revision of the land claims policy and that it will allow an acceleration of the process that needs to lead to the conclusion of a modern treaty.

Concerning services, the Atikamekw Chiefs show themselves just as insistent. "We have battled for better socio-economic conditions for several years now, for access to better resources and for the possibility to offer our youths an interesting future. I sometimes have the impression that our efforts are futile, that, despite fine speeches, Canadian politicians do not possess the courage to take the steps required to put a real stop to the discrimination of which we are victims and to establish a genuine partner relationship with us", explained Grand Chief Ottawa.

The Atikamekw Chiefs decry in particular the lack of financing for health services, which endangers the security of the inhabitants of these three communities. "If nothing changes in this regard, we will hold the prime minister and the Canadian Minister of Health personally responsible for any deplorable event that might occur due to the lack of financial resources", warns Manawan Chief Paul-Émile Ottawa.

Concerning housing problems, the Atikamekw Chiefs emphasise that the Attawapiskat case is by no means the only one. "For several years now, we have clearly mentioned the problem of insufficient funding, the most scandalous one probably being the lack of housing assistance. All our houses are overpopulated. The lack of housing contributes to an increase in health problems and social problems within our communities. Our situation is similar to the one of Attawapiskat. Do we really have to call in the Red Cross for the government to pay any attention to this matter? ", affirmed Wemotaci Chief David Boivin.

Regarding education and economic development, Chief of Opitciwan Christian Awashish reminds that without an access to the resources on the land, it is difficult to assure the First Nation's thriving. "How can we accept that public financing of an Atikamekw student is lower than the one for a Canadian student? Especially so, when we know the socio-economic problems we live with. The education of our youths is our priority but we don't have sufficient support from the government to help us meet this basic need. Without resources, it is difficult for us to keep our young ones at school and to instill confidence in them for their future", explained the Awashish Chief.

A new relationship

The Atikamekw Chiefs reach out to Stephen Harper and invite him to commit to a genuine reconciliation with them. "We do so, since we still keep up our hope for a better future for our Nation. This hope lies especially with our youths, who represent 60% of the population, and who manifest the desire to preserve their identity and their culture. We are one of the rare nations in Canada, where 95% of us still speak our own language", indicates Grand Chief Ottawa.

To do so, the Atikamekw Chiefs request the federal government to immediately renew the negotiator's mandate, so as to be able to pursue and complete the process of the territorial negotiations. "We have been waiting for two years for the government to renew its negotiator's mandate. In the meantime, we have made great progress with the Quebec government, but we are turning in circles with questions on a federal level. Why this slowness? It is incomprehensible, considering that this claim has been the object of talks for over 30 years and that our negotiations have cost us about $30 million. All of this effort would merit pursuing the matter and investing in some additional resources that will allow us to reach our goal" declared Grand Chief Ottawa.

The Atikamekw Chiefs wish that their message be heard and that the government reacts quickly. "There is great urgency to act! Our youths are not as patient and docile as we are", specified Eva Ottawa.

Concerning the Atikamekw Nation

Counting over 6000 members, the Atikamekw Nehirowisiw nation takes up the fifth place of the First Nations in Quebec. It is divided into three communities, Manawan, Opitciwan and Wemotaci, regrouped under the Atikamekw Nation Council, for which the chairman, the Grand Chief, is being elected by universal suffrage. Its land claims have been the subject of official talks with the governments of Quebec and Canada since 1980.

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