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Jean Chretien said the government changed their minds about Indian claims since 1969 as a result of submissions by native organizations and other groups, debate, in the Commons Indian Affairs Committee and recent court proceedings.
The Indian Affairs Minister further stated, "The government is now ready to negotiate with authorized representatives of these native peoples on the basis that where their traditional interest in the lands concerned can be established, an agreed form of compensation or benefit will be provided to native peoples in return for their interests.
Mr. Chretien said settlements can only be reached if the provinces concerned participate along with the Federal government. He maintained that it is in the interests of the provinces to settle the land claims and that Provincial governments help aid the Federal government to provide compensation.
The Minister rules out any renegotiation of claims by Indians whose ancestors already signed treaties giving their land to the government. However, he repeated the governments pledge that lawful obligations must be recognized.
The claims must be settled and the most promising way was through negotiations. Once settlements are reached, he said, they will have to be approved by Parliament to give them the force of law.
He conceded there could be difficulties with some provinces.
George Manuel, President of the National Indian Brotherhood of Canada was glad the government had finally recognized "that Indians do have rights to the land which they occupied and used for thousands of years".
Mr. Manuel fears though that the negotiations may bog down in buck passing between the Federal and Provincial government.
Another Indian spokesman said, "This is another scheme to make it more difficult for the Indian to get compensated. The Indian now has to face not one government but two now which makes the odds greater against the Indian; which makes our chances pretty darn small".
Mr. Manuel said, "We find the proposal of Indians being caught in the middle of political and economic wars between the Federal government and the concerned Provincial government as ludicrous."
He contended Ottawa should negotiate alone with the native representatives, then work out the sharing of compensation with the provinces.