National Chief Urges Action By the Government

Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), stated today that the federal government must begin working immediately with First Nations to implement the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Corbiere v. Canada and the Batchewana Band.

The Corbiere decision affirms the right of First Nation citizens to vote in their community’s elections, regardless of whether they live on or off the reserve. The decision takes effect November 20, 2000.

“Time is of the essence,” said National Chief Fontaine. “The Corbiere decision is national in scope and will require adequate time and resources to implement the necessary changes. The clock is ticking.”

National Chief Fontaine stated that the AFN has been ready to move on the issue well before the Corbiere decision.

“The AFN supports the right of all First Nations people to vote in their community’s elections. We had a resolution to this effect more than a year prior to the Corbiere decision,” stated the National Chief. “When the decision came down, we had already had a workplan to implement Corbiere, and it was approved by the Chief’s in Assembly in July 1999. If the government is looking for direction, we have the plan.”

The Supreme Court allowed for an 18-month period before the decision takes effect. The Court urged the federal government to use that time to work with First Nations on implementing Corbiere.

“Traditionally, we always governed in ways that were inclusive and participatory,” said National Chief Fontaine. “The Corbiere decision is the result of the government imposing its own policies and systems on our people . Once again, the Supreme Court is saying that First Nations are best suited to determine their own laws and governance in these matters. The federal government created this problem. Only First Nations can find solutions that will work for our communities. We are calling for a process that is designed and led by First Nations.”

The AFN has been meeting with the National Association of Friendship Centres and the Native Women’s Association of Canada to begin work on Corbiere.

“We hope to hear something soon from the federal government, but we cannot wait,” said National Chief Fontaine. “We have seen with recent court decisions what can happen when governments fail to engage early on with First Nations. We are working with other First Nations organizations in spite of our limited resources. We want the federal government to join us to ensure that Corbiere results in positive and beneficial changes. Our concern at this point in that the clock is ticking, and any national process requires time.”