Time: 22:00:00 ET - 22:20:00 ET
CBC-TV The National
Title: Ovide Mercredi held an emergency meeting of native leaders
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Ovide Mercredi held an emergency meeting of native leaders today in Winnipeg and outlined why proposed changes to the Indian Act should be rejected. As Reg Charon reports, there's clearly some division over this issue.
REG CHARON (Reporter): It was a nervous looking Ovide Mercredi who walked into this emergency meeting. Nervous because at first there were a lot of empty chairs. Of Canada's 600 or so native leaders, few had registered to help fight Ottawa's proposed changes to the Indian Act. Ottawa says it's only trying to clean up the Legislation to give native bands more control over natural resources or how Chiefs are elected. Native leaders fear it could change everything from the way native land is bought and sold to the legal status of bands. But since it was introduced in the House of Commons last week cracks have started appearing in native opposition to Bill 79. First high profile Chiefs like Manitoba's Phil Fontaine said the changes were.
PHIL FONTAINE: It's okay.
CHARON: Okay because they were optional. Other Chiefs agreed. Today none of them showed up at this meeting to hear Mercredi fire back.
OVIDE MERCREDI (Assembly of First Nations Chief): They are misleading their people. The fact of the matter is if we opt in to Bill C-79 we are cutting our own throats.
CHARON: And to his admitted relief more people than even he expected eventually showed up to listen - over 200 of them. Chiefs like Bill Traverse who say they're not happy some Chiefs support the legislation.
CHIEF BILL TRAVERSE: Like I say I'm concerned, you know, maybe disappointed a little bit.
CHARON: But in Saskatchewan native leaders responded this way.
DAN BELOLEGARDE (Saskatchewan Vice-Chief): We will not, as an organization of Chiefs, and we have the support of the Chiefs in this one, be dictated to by Ron Irwin nor will be dictated to by Chief Mercredi.
CHARON: Belolegarde also says Mercredi no longer speaks for Saskatchewan Chiefs. Mercredi admits his strategy is damaged but not destroyed. Native leaders now plan a national day of protest for January. And Mercredi also issued a challenge to Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin. He says the Minister should call his own meeting and see how many native leaders show up to support him. Reg Charon, CBC News, Winnipeg.