Indian Affairs is one step closer to being dismantled in Manitoba.

After six months of negotiations and 13 rewrites of a ground-breaking agreement on self-government, Manitoba’s First Nations Chiefs ratified a preliminary self-government agreement in early September. The agreement covers 60 First Nations and 85,000 status natives. It must now be approved by the federal cabinet.

In urging the Chiefs to approve the document, Grand Chief Phil Fontaine of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs reminded them that “the enemy is not within our organization, but outside… The fight is not between Chiefs. The fight is with government.”

But the process hasn’t been easy and all the questions Manitoba natives have raised are not yet answered.

“How will self-government be financed?” asked Elder Daniel Beardy from the Lake St-Martin reserve at a public meeting. “Native people have little experience in paying taxes.”

Others asked what will happen to family allowances, old age security payments and welfare.

Grand Chief Fontaine answered by saying that Ottawa is still responsible for its treaty obligations, including education, housing and health care. But exactly what those treaty obligations are is still unclear and subject to dispute.

The framework agreement sets a 10-year deadline to develop a mutually agreed upon process for dismantling Indian Affairs and transferring power to First Nations. Each nation will be able to decide for itself how far it will go with self-government and at what pace.