OTTAWA, (Reuters) – A Canadian native leader said today that anger among the country’s aboriginals is such that they could block resource development and bring the economy “to its knees” unless the Conservative government addresses a series of grievances.
Native leaders are due to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday to discuss the poor living conditions facing many of Canada’s 1.2 million aboriginals.
Activists have already blockaded some rail lines and threatened to close Canada’s borders with the United States in a campaign they call Idle No More.
“We have had enough. Our young people have had enough. Our women have had enough … we have nothing left to lose,” said Grand Chief Derek Nepinak from the province of Manitoba.
Native leaders say they want more federal money and a greater say over what happens to resources on their land.
“These are demands, not requests … the Idle No More movement has the people, it has the people and the numbers that can bring the Canadian economy to its knees. It can stop Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s resource development plan,” Nepinak told reporters.
“We have the warriors that are standing up now, that are willing to go that far. So we’re not here to make requests, we’re here to demand attention,” he said.
Aboriginal bands are unhappy about Enbridge Inc’s plans to build a pipeline from the oil sands of Alberta to the Pacific province of British Columbia and say they will not allow the project to go ahead.
Nepinak and other chiefs from Manitoba also said they want Governor General David Johnston, the official representative of Queen Elizabeth in Canada, to be present at the meeting with Harper on Friday. Johnston has already said he will not be there.
Successive Canadian governments have struggled for decades to improve the life of aboriginals.
Ottawa spends around C$11 billion ($11.1 billion) a year on an aboriginal population of 1.2 million, yet living conditions for many are poor, particularly for those on reserves with high rates of poverty, addiction, joblessness and suicide.
As part of the Idle No More campaign, protesters blocked a Canadian National Railway Co line in Sarnia, Ontario, in late December and early January.