Off-reserve, non-status native people need support, says leader

Ryan Ross
Published on February 6, 2016

Dwight Dorey, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples


Dwight Dorey, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples in Charlottetown for meetings

The head of a group representing First Nations people who live off reserve says he is optimistic the Trudeau government will respond to their needs.

Dwight Dorey, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said if a case before the Supreme Court of Canada is successful he wants the federal government to sit down for negotiations.

"I'm somewhat optimistic that they're willing to at least sit down and talk about this at this point in time," he said.

Dorey was in Charlottetown Friday for meetings as part of what he calls a grassroots engagement tour to discuss matters of importance to indigenous people living off reserve.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples represents Metis, status and non-status natives, as well as Southern Inuit of Labrador who live off reserve.

The congress says more than 70 per cent of indigenous people live off reserve.

If the court case is successful, it will see Metis and non-status natives recognized under the Constitution Act, giving them access to government programs and services.

In an interview with The Guardian, Dorey said the problem has been the federal government has taken a view that unless people are status natives living on reserve they fall within provincial jurisdictions for support programs.

"We referred to ourselves over the years as the forgotten people," he said.

High levels of infant mortality, drug and alcohol abuse and low levels of education are consistent between native communities on and off reserve, Dorey said.

"My basic position as the leader of the congress is the need requires comparable services and programs."

Examples of some of those programs Dorey gave include access to health services that are available on reserves and transportation provided for people who need medical treatment.

"You don't get that if you live off reserve," he said.

Dorey said no matter what happens with the court decision it will have an impact on non-status and off-reserve natives.

"That's potentially going to be a game changer," he said.