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Nation debate comes North

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 06/06) - A surprise motion in the House of Commons Nov. 22 recognizing Quebecois as a nation within Canada has brought agreement among Northern politicians that First Nations should be recognized in similar fashion to the country's francophone population.

"We tried to put forward an amendment during the debate (on the nation motion) to include recognition of First Nations but it was disallowed," said Dennis Bevington, Western Arctic MP.

His New Democratic Party voted in favour of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's motion giving francophones nation status.

Bevington added that while his party passed a resolution at its September convention that designated Quebec as a nation within Canada, he believes there was a need to clarify the definition of nation.

"Quebecois as a nation is an abstract notion that speaks to the people of Quebec and Quebec's national character," he said.

"Just as we recognize the character of the original people of this country -- this is very similar and strengthens our cultural diversity."

Bill Erasmus, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief, takes Bevington's concerns about definitions a step further, rejecting the idea of labeling Quebecois a nation.

"We've concluded that we don't believe they are a nation," said Erasmus.

"For one you need to have a land base and we know that the land of Quebec belongs to the indigenous people, especially if you ask the Mohawks, who the land belongs to, and I don't think they believe it belongs to the province."

First Nations were not consulted prior to the motion, which Erasmus called a political play on Harper's part to block a near-identical motion from the Bloq Quebecois.

"We've talked about it at the assembly that we should've been included and we need to make clear where we stand within this discussion," added Erasmus.

"And there's some talk as to whether or not another motion should go forward to address the concerns of First Nations."

Premier Joe Handley preferred a more diplomatic tone when referring to the motion, but like Bevington and Erasmus, he felt aboriginal people deserved similar acknowledgement.

"I don't think refusing to do this for Quebec would gain us anything, but let's also reaffirm the recognition of First Nations and to me that includes the Inuit, Inuvialuit and Metis people, all aboriginal people," he told Yellowknifer. "My concern is that it doesn't diminish the recognition of aboriginal people as the First Nations of Canada, they are the original people."