Ottawa must give Quebecers a constitutional alternative to the status quo or they just might vote to separate from Canada, says Ovide Mercredi, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

“The prime minister I think would be well advised not to gamble with the fate of the country and not to gamble with the fate of our rights as First Nations,” Chief Mercredi told reporters at a special AFN meeting in December.

At the meeting, held in Quebec City, 250 Chiefs from across the country gathered to discuss the threat of Quebec sovereignty and pass a resolution denouncing the PQ government’s sovereignty plans. The Chiefs said Quebec cannot declare sovereignty without the consent of the province’s 11 First Nations. They declared that the PQ’s plan to achieve sovereignty is illegal, undemocratic and violates Aboriginal rights. They said it’s Ottawa’s duty to come to their aid and to devise a constitutional alternative so Quebecers will want to stay in Canada.

Before the meeting, Kahnawake Grand Chief Joe Norton told the Gazette that Ottawa is doing “a piss-poor job” in the stand-off with Quebec. “They’ve got to send a clear message that what Quebec is doing is purely and simply illegal,” he said. “Two-thirds of Quebec belongs to Native people— never been ceded, never been defeated, never been taken away from us.” Most First Nations in Quebec have already said they will boycott the government sovereignty commissions that will canvas public opinion on separation this spring.

Prime Minister Chretien and Quebec Liberal Leader Daniel Johnson responded to the Chiefs by saying Canadians are tired of constitutional talk.