The guests expected a solemn and dignified ceremony to mark the beginning of “reconciliation.”Instead, they got World War Three, as one surprised guest put it.

The event in question was Canada’s official burying of the hatchet with Native people. After a year ofwaiting, the government finally responded to the many recommendations of the Royal Commission onAboriginal Peoples. Words of forgiveness and apology were spoken. The peace pipe was puffed.

But most of the guests were far from happy and didn’t hide their anger during the ceremony. Some are gunning for the head of Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who helped design the reconciliation package.

“Phil was totally by himself,” said one guest. “It was embarassing. He looked ridiculous. This was clearly a disaster.”

“It’s obvious the love-in between the AFN and Indian Affairs has not been as productive as we thought it would be,” said Harry Daniels, head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

Daniels represents 800,000 Metis, off-reserve and non-treaty Natives. He says his members were ignored by the government’s so-called Aboriginal Action Plan.

The key part of the plan was a $350-million “healing program” for people struggling with their residential-school experiences. Stewart acknowledged the wrongs of the past.

But was it an outright, formal apology? Some people are still not sure.

Many believe the government is afraid a formal apology would lead to millions of dollars in costly lawsuits by those who endured abuses in the schools.

Indian Affairs also plans a $126-million infrastructure plan for First Nations and may pardon hanged Metis leader Louis Riel.

Native leaders say the plan doesn’t come close to meeting the calls of the Royal Commission and the needs of Native people.

“If they (the AFN) are satisfied, that’s fine. I was elected to fight for my people, not jump in bed with the government,” said Daniels. “It’s very obvious the other (major Native) groups were dissatisfied. This was not a response to the Royal Comission and there was not an apology. If we’re going to be partners, let’s be partners.”

Of the healing plan, Daniels said, “It’s not enough for anything, anyway. It won’t even clear up the problem in Winnipeg.”

Armand MacKenzie, a lawyer for the Innu of Nitassinan, said it’s good the government is acknowledging past wrongs, but the money promised merely returns funds that were cut in previous years. “They’re giving you with one hand what they took with the other hand.”

The government’s new plan does very little on another important question: land claims. MacKenzie sees nothing positive in Stewart’s plan for the Innu land claim, which has been pursued for 20 years.

“The same old policy is there: extinguishment,” he said. “There needs to a fundamental review(of the land-claims policy). It’s not just fine-tuning. We need real change.”

Next issue: The Cree reaction