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No 'cookie cutter' for Aboriginal government: First Nations leader

PRINCE GEORGE - The structure of Indigenous governments under the Recognition and Reconciliation Act will be decided individually by each Nation, said Aboriginal leaders after yesterday's regional consultation session.

“No one can say to any one of those communities, 'this is how you have to be organized, and this is how you have to be structured,'" said Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit.

"The intention of the legislation is not to do any of that. So the job of organizing and structuring, that’s our business, that’s no one else’s business how we set up," he said.

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach to this -- that’s one thing that really has to be understood.”

Chief John emphasized the legislation is something that Aboriginal groups are considering to accommodate the provincial government’s interests, despite the fact that the existing system was the government’s initiative in the first place.

“The notion of Band Council is pretty recent, as of 1876, when the Indian Act was established,” said Chief John in the session debriefing. “Over time the government’s established fought against tribal Indigenous groups and wanted to replace those with their own system of government called Band Councils.”

Now that they have changed their system, he said, First Nations are under no obligation to change it again if they don’t want to.

“Government cannot insist or force that issue, because legally they have no responsibility. But they have an interest, so we’re trying to accommodate that interest.”

One proposal is that the decision-making could be made by groups divided along linguistic lines.

The movement towards larger groupings is closer to many First Nations’ historical government structures, Chief John said. It's one that some groups are already moving toward, he added, but the choice to do so must be left to the Nations themselves.

Yesterday's regional session was the first of several consultations that will take place around the province to collect input and direction from First Nations at all levels on the proposed Recognition and Reconciliation Act.

The next session is scheduled for June 16 and 17 in Cranbrook.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee.

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