Divisive issue still looms
Conference offers little in way of Bill C-31 solutions

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Ottawa (May 05/00) - There was some discussion of Bill C-31 at the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples' convention in Ottawa, but it seems the issue is far from being resolved, especially in the North.

"We're still in the same boat. Nothing has been solved," said Albertine Rodh, president of Metis Local 52.

"I didn't see anything moving of any kind," said Rodh, one of two Fort Simpson delegates to attend the event last week.

The issue of Bill C-31 has proven divisive for the Metis Association NWT.

A resolution revoking voting rights for those with Indian status -- those who receive greater health and education benefit than their Metis counterparts -- was passed last September at their annual assembly in Fort Simpson.

Rodh said the members of the Metis NWT board had hoped to hold their own meeting in Ottawa, but several of them didn't make it so they couldn't reach quorum.

The limited debate over Bill C-31 at the convention, which hosted approximately 150 delegates from all over Canada, centred on how those who did not take status were excluded from certain services and programs, said Rodh.

"Some people are saying, 'I don't think it (Bill-31) will last that long. I think it will phase out to nothing,'" she noted.

Bill Laferte, a Metis elder and NWT member at large, said there was nothing of use for Northern Metis people to come from the conference.

"Nothing there impressed me," he said, adding that status Indians, non-status Indians, Metis and Inuit are all among full-voting Aboriginal Congress members.

"There are too many factions there."

He said there were numerous regional groups vying for funding and certain rights and privileges.

"There was too much regional interest ... It's the same damn thing we have here. Probably, the problems we are having in the Northwest Territories are as a result of that kind of stuff," he said.

"Nothing is being done to resolve the problems of Metis people as a distinct group, which is allowed for in the amendment to the Indian Act."

The convention did, however, give him an opportunity to compare notes and socialize with Metis people from all over the country who face some similar and some different obstacles, he said.

Albert Lafferty, of Fort Providence, also attended the convention but he couldn't be reached for comment prior to press deadline.