National Chief pitches self-governance

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations is laying out a concrete plan to move beyond the much-hated Indian Act.

Shawn Atleo is proposing a series of steps that would see First Nations governed mainly by rights enshrined in the Constitution and sharing more fully in the proceeds of resource development.

"If we believe in our Constitution, and if we believe in the promises we made to one another in the early days of this nation, it is incumbent upon us to find the way forward," Atleo said Friday at a symposium on governance.

The federal government already backs legislation that would repeal parts of the Indian Act. But First Nations have generally disagreed with what they say is a heavy-handed approach that perpetuates paternalistic treatment by Ottawa.

"Government's response has often been limited, narrow, piecemeal and unilateral," Atleo said in his first major attempt since he was re-elected last summer to set out a blueprint for First Nations self-governance.

He wants a thorough audit of all aboriginal policies to see if they are compatible with the Constitution's recognition of aboriginal rights.

"Yes, the Indian Act and the Indian Act bureaucracy must be fundamentally and finally eliminated. But ... attempts to tinker or impose will not work," Atleo said.

Instead, First Nations must be equal partners in designing a path towards self-government, Atleo said. First Nations leaders need to develop their own capacity to govern, and eventually oversee all major functions of a state: citizenship, justice, economic development, health, education and social services.

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