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Chief to Harper: Address native concerns or face 'aboriginal uprising'

A prominent B.C. native leader says Prime Minister Stephen Harper risks an "Aboriginal uprising" unless his government can improve relations with First Nations.

"We can do better. We must do better. The Honour of the Crown and the very integrity of Canada as a nation is at stake," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, stated in a news release. "Otherwise, an Aboriginal uprising is inevitable."

But any uprising would largely be peaceful, Phillip told the Vancouver Sun, akin to such large-scale social movements as the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s.

Phillip's comments came as about 400 chiefs from across Canada attend the Crown-First Nations Gathering, a chance for native leaders to express various concerns directly to Harper and senior government ministers.

The B.C. delegation, which includes about 97 chiefs and representatives, wants the federal government to improve its consultation efforts when "major industrial developments" stand to impact native communities, an apparent reference to Enbridge's Northern Gateway proposal.

The meeting so far has showed signs of tension, as several native speakers, including Assembly of First Nations national chief Shawn Atleo, called for the end of the Indian Act, first passed in 1876.

Harper, meanwhile, believes the legislation, which helped produce the reserve system and residential schooling, can be updated and improved.

Geoff Dembicki reports on energy and climate issues for The Tyee.

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