National Chief says Ministerial Representative's Report on Matrimonial Real Property Offers hope for First Nations Families by Calling for Greater First Nations Control

    OTTAWA, April 23 /CNW Telbec/ - Assembly of First Nations National Chief
Phil Fontaine, and AFN Women's Council Chair Kathleen McHugh, strongly support
some key recommendations in the Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) Ministerial
Representative's Report on Matrimonial Real Property (MRP) that call on the
government to recognize First Nations authority and ability to deal with MRP
    "Matrimonial Real Property deals with the sometimes painful issues that
affect our families and communities when marriages breakdown," said
Ms. McHugh. "The report states that First Nations have inherent jurisdiction
over this matter. To us, this means our peoples, our communities, and our
governments must be front and centre in setting the rules, policies and
procedures that govern division of matrimonial real property. Not only is this
our right, it is the right way to go given this issue literally hits so close
to home. Federal legislation created this problem and more imposed legislation
to try and correct it is not the answer. The voices of our women and men must
be heard and respected."
    Ministerial Representative Wendy Grant-John confirmed that the federal
government does not yet have a policy to implement its "duty to consult" with
First Nations, set out in the Supreme Court of Canada's Haida decision of
2004. As a matter of urgency, the federal government must address this policy
gap by developing a federal consultation policy. AFN strongly endorses this
recommendation and stresses that First Nations must be involved in this work.
The Minister should not go forward with legislation in the spring of 2007
without a joint consultation policy in place.
    The report recommends also that the federal government make funding
available to First Nations communities to establish dispute resolution bodies
and provide legal aid funding to First Nations families to address access to
justice issues. Existing programs must prevent shortfalls in resources
required. The AFN has also strongly encouraged the federal government to adopt
these non-legislative options.
    "We are pleased that the Ministerial Representative has addressed the
fundamental issue of First Nations capacity," said AFN National Chief Phil
Fontaine. "New rules and regulations are not useful if there is no way to
enforce them. Building capacity in First Nations communities will lead to
greater control over the decisions that affect our lives. The transition
towards self-determination and self-sufficiency is essential to alleviate
poverty among First Nations children, women and families, and create a
healthier future for all First Nations peoples."
    The Ministerial Representative has recommended that the federal
government introduce interim federal rules that would allow courts to make
orders regarding the possession of homes on reserve. While First Nations want
to address the immediate needs of families impacted by legislative
uncertainty, there is potential for interim federal rules to affect the
constitutionally protected Aboriginal title and Treaty rights of First
Nations. Again, this raises significant implications for the federal
government's clear legal duty to consult.
    "The Minister must now respond fully to these recommendations and call a
Joint Steering Committee meeting, as agreed in the 2005 First Nations -
Federal Crown Political Accord signed by the AFN and the Government of
Canada," said National Chief Fontaine." Minister Prentice promised such a
meeting more than a year ago at an Assembly of Chiefs in British Columbia, but
he has yet to meet with us. This is the appropriate forum for further
discussions on this issue. We owe it to all First Nations people to move
forward in a spirit of cooperation, recognition and partnership."

    The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing
First Nations citizens in Canada.

For further information:

For further information: Bryan Hendry, A/Director of Communications,
(613) 241-6789 ext. 229, cell (613) 293-6106,; Nancy Pine,
Communications Advisor - Office of the National Chief, (613) 241-6789 ext 243,
(613) 298-6382,

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