* Aboriginal leaders set to meet prime minister on Friday
* Natives could bring economy "to its knees", says top chief
* Many of Canada's 1.2 million aboriginals live in poverty
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, Jan 10 Native Canadians are so angry
that they could resort to blocking resource development and
bring the economy "to its knees" unless the Conservative
government addresses their grievances, an influential chief said
Native Canadian chiefs are due to meet with Prime Minister
Stephen Harper on Friday to discuss the poor living conditions
facing many of Canada's 1.2 million aboriginals.
"We have had enough. Our young people have had enough. Our
women have had enough ... . We have nothing left to lose," said
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak from the province of Manitoba.
Activists have already blockaded some rail lines and
threatened to close Canada's borders with the United States in a
campaign they call "Idle No More."
Canada has 633 separate native "bands," each of which have
their own communities and lands, and not all share the same
opinions. The chief of the Assembly of First Nations, the
aboriginal umbrella group, said his members had come to a
tipping point, but he made no mention of damaging the economy.
"You cannot ignore what is happening with Idle No More... We
will drive the final stake in the heart of colonialism and it
will happen in this generation," Shawn Atleo told a separate
"First Nations are not opposed to resource development, they
are just not supportive of development at any cost," he said.
Native Canadian leaders say they want more federal money, a
greater say over what happens to resources on their land and
more respect from the federal Conservative government.
"These are demands, not requests," said Nepinak. "The Idle
No More movement has the people - it has the people and the
numbers - that can bring the Canadian economy to its knees. It
can stop Prime Minister Stephen Harper's resource development
plan," Nepinak told reporters in Ottawa.
"We have the warriors that are standing up now, that are
willing to go that far. So we're not here to make requests,
we're here to demand attention," he said.
Aboriginal bands are unhappy about Enbridge Inc's
plans to build a pipeline from the oil sands of Alberta to the
Pacific province of British Columbia, and some say they will not
allow the project to go ahead.
Some aboriginal bands oppose the Enbridge pipeline on the
grounds that it is too environmentally dangerous while others
say the company did not do enough to consult them before
applying for permission to go ahead with the project.
Nepinak said he wants to extend a "diplomatic hand" toward
resolving the issues and gave no details about what he meant by
bringing the economy to its knees.
Nepinak and other Manitoba chiefs are also demanding that
Ottawa rescind parts of two recent budget acts they say reduce
environmental protection for lakes and rivers, and make it
easier to sell lands on the reserves where many natives live.
"We've been working tirelessly to gain access through
various channels into this Harper regime ... . How do we trust
the words of this prime minister?" Nepinak asked.
Successive Canadian governments have struggled for decades
to improve the life of aboriginals.
Ottawa spends around C$11 billion ($11.1 billion) a year on
its aboriginal population, yet living conditions for many are
poor, particularly for those on reserves with high rates of
poverty, addiction, joblessness and suicide.
As part of the Idle No More campaign, protesters blocked a
Canadian National Railway Co line in Sarnia, Ontario,
in late December and early January.