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Jewish leader addresses AFN delegates

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 11/05) - What was supposed to be a public make-up session Thursday instead highlighted a deep rift between parts of the Jewish and aboriginal communities.

Ed Morgan, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, addressed delegates at the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting Thursday in Yellowknife.

Controversial Manitoba chief Terrance Nelson blamed Jewish authors for promoting hatred against aboriginals and said first nations veterans have not received enough credit for liberating Nazi death camps during the Second World War.

"We have been there for you. It is time the Jewish people recognize (this)," he said.

The comments came moments after Ed Morgan, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, addressed several hundred delegates at the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting in Yellowknife.

His speech was timely: it came the day before a Saskatchewan court convicted former AFN national chief David Ahenakew of wilfully promoting hatred.

Ahenakew, who was fined $1,000 for the crime, called Jews a "disease" and applauded the holocaust during an interview with a newspaper reporter in December 2002.

"Most people understand the irony of one member of a minority community lashing out against another minority group," said Morgan, who touched only briefly on the case.

"We need to move forward from this."

Rising to an open microphone after the speech, Nelson refused to criticize Ahenakew until he received an apology from Jewish leaders.

"I will condemn his comments when the CJC condemns hateful articles against us," Nelson said to loud applause.

Nelson, head of the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, was criticized earlier this year after he blamed "Jewish-owned multi-national" media organizations for spreading hatred against aboriginals.

Nelson finished his remarks Thursday by saying he hoped Jews and aboriginals could work together, but "there was a long way to go (before we) understand each other."

After his speech, Morgan said Nelson still had "issues to work out" and Nelson's views did not represent those of most aboriginals. "They are the ideas of one person," he said.

Morgan was welcomed by National Chief Phil Fontaine as an "ally" in the struggle against hatred and discrimination.

"We offer him our hand in friendship and mutual support," Fontaine said.

The leaders said both communities have faced oppression and look forward to working closely together in the future.