Canadian governments and industry are waging a “public relations war” against the First Nations people in this country, says a member of the Teme-Augama Anishinabai.

“The standard war against Aboriginal people is we’re a drain on the taxpayers’ money, we can’t get it together, etcetera. That whole thing is fed into constantly,” said Mary Laronde at a conference on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, held Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 in Montreal.

The Teme-Augama, who live near North Bay, Ont., fought forestry interests and the Ontario government for many years before getting a say in how logging would be done on their lands. But the government then proceeded to undermine the agreement that it itself had signed and the deal fell apart.

Laronde was a member of a panel addressing the issue of managing resources and revenue-sharing. The demand for royalties from resource exploitation was a major theme in the conference, echoed by AFN leader Ovide Mercredi in his closing speech. But Laronde said governments and industry are afraid of recognizing Native sovereignty over valuable resources.

Remy Kurtness, an Innu representative from Mashtseuiatsh, said the Native traditional way of life can’t survive with existing forestry practices. “At the moment, there is exploitation of one people’s resources by another people. It’s Third World management. I can’t believe it can be allowed in this country,” he said.

“Nothing is given back, there is no sharing of benefits, while the First Nations people are in poverty. They are taking out billions in resources, while Native people get nothing and are instead seen as not paying taxes and being privileged. We have passed from sovereignty and self-sufficiency to dependence, from pride to shame. We have to reverse this situation,” said Kurtness.

A representative of the Barrière Lake people was also present. He spoke of how forestry companies and Ottawa colluded to stage a “coup” in the community and overthrow an Algonquin chief.