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Recognition and Reconciliation sessions seek Aboriginal input

PRINCE GEORGE – The first regional session of the Recognition and Reconciliation Act began today with Aboriginal leaders calling the process an important step in resolving a 150-year-old issue.

“We know that we exist, but for some stupid reason we have to prove we have the right to our own land," said Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit.

“That is why this document is in front of us today -- to resolve that issue.”

The Prince George session is the first of seven that will take place throughout the province to collect input and direction from First Nations at all levels on the proposed Recognition and Reconciliation Act.

Today's opening remarks began on a negative note with complaints the First Nations Leadership Council did not follow proper protocol when organizing the session.

Chief Dominic Fredrick of the Lheidli T’enneh Band, the first of several speakers in the opening words, said the Council did not consult him or ask permission to hold the session on Lheidli T’enneh territory.

“It’s not proper,” he said, adding that the Council did not acknowledge the community in their actions, and that learning second hand about an event held on your own territory is “insulting.”

“Today we are talking about reconciliation and discussion,” Chief Fredrick said, “but you can’t form a government that way -- with disrespect.”

The Recognition and Reconciliation Act would officially recognize, without the need of proof, that First Nations existed and continue to exist, have their own laws, governments, political structures, territories and rights inherited from their ancestors.

If the legislation is enacted, it could potentially restructure the entire First Nations system from the existing 203 bands in B.C. to a significantly smaller number of linguistic groups.

One goal of the act would be to avoid lengthy litigation costs with government by creating a more centralized body for government and industry to negotiate with, as opposed to several different groups with different bands.

Discussions will continue throughout the day in Prince George.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee.

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