AFN Leader Matthew Conn Come
Matthew Coon Come, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), has signed an ecumenical petition calling upon the federal government to implement native land rights.
Mr. Coon Come’s support of the church-sponsored initiative has “a lot of significance,” according to Chris Hiller, indigenous justice coordinator in the national Anglican church’s Partnerships department. “The Assembly of First Nations is the most powerful aboriginal organization we have in Canada,” noted Ms. Hiller.
“This strong endorsement by the Assembly of First Nations ? sends a clear message that there are serious problems with the federal government’s existing aboriginal policies, problems that can only be addressed by making fundamental changes to the way land rights are negotiated,” said Mildred Poplar, co-chair of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition, the group that developed the petition, in a statement.
In addition to Mr. Coon Come, several vice-chiefs of the organization also signed. About 600 chiefs, representing aboriginals nationwide, belong to AFN. The Aboriginal Rights Coalition has 12 church members, including the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and United churches.
The petition, launched last September, is part of the churches’ social-justice Jubilee initiative.
In Canada, the Jubilee petition calls on Ottawa to establish an independent commission with a mandate to implement “aboriginal land, treaty and inherent rights.”
Several land-rights negotiations are underway in Canada, perhaps the best known having led to the recent agreement in British Columbia with the Nisga’a nation.
“At this point, aboriginal people are incredibly impoverished and don’t have access to land that would allow them to sustain an economy. Often the lands given to reserves are the worst possible land,” said Ms. Hiller.
The Jubilee petition has collected 2,000 signatures so far, with a goal of 100,000 by June, when it is to be presented to Prime Minister Jean Chretien.