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Aboriginal leaders plan fight to salvage $5B federal deal

CBC News:
Last Updated May 3 2006 04:02 PM CDT

Aboriginal leaders in Manitoba are expressing anger and frustration over the commitments made to native communities in Tuesday's federal budget.

The Conservative government confirmed Tuesday it had killed the five-year, $5-billion Kelowna agreement the previous Liberal government negotiated with the premiers last fall.

Instead, the budget allocated $450 million over two years for the improvement of water quality and housing on reserves, as well as "education outcomes and socio-economic conditions for aboriginal women, children and families."

Ron Evans, head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told CBC News the budget plans frustrated him to the point of anger.

"Anger at just, you know, the amount that's being considered for First Nations in Canada. The number is far short of what the real need is," he said.

Evans said aboriginal leaders will not give up the Kelowna agreement without a fight. Evans said several means could be used to revive the agreement, from diplomacy to protest.

"[We're] recommending or suggesting to the [Assembly of First Nations] to convene a meeting with the premiers – that's one – also, there is the possibility of a legal challenge," Evans said.

"Situations like Caledonia – we want to avoid those. That's the last option, in the failure of those other ones, in the failure of something that is reasonable."

Members of the Six Nations are maintaining roadblocks in Caledonia, Ont., to protest against a property developer's plan to build homes on land they say belongs to them.

Evans hopes the country's premiers could bring pressure on Ottawa to bring back the Kelowna deal. The provinces were also counting on the Kelowna money to help improve living conditions on reserves, he said.

Evans expects the AFN to make a decision later this week. In the meantime, his staff is determining what the money allocated in the budget for First Nations will mean for Manitoba.

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