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Natives Protest Pan Am Games

July 23, 1999

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) _ Native Canadian marchers paraded to the opening ceremonies of the Pan American Games on Friday to protest what they say are third-world conditions for their people in Manitoba.

A few hours earlier, southern Manitoba First Nation, a group of Canadian aboriginals, opened a casino in defiance of provincial law, saying the casino will help improve those deplorable living standards.

Native leaders say casinos like those operated by bands in other provinces and the United States are an important first step in providing the financial wherewithal to pay for native self-government.

Perhaps 200 marchers, including native drummers, were on hand for the start of the walk, although more were expected to join en route. The protesters promised to remain outside Winnipeg Stadium and not disrupt the official opening of the games being attended by Princess Anne and other dignitaries.

``That’s not the intention of this demonstration at all, we are not protesting the Pan Am Games,″ said organizer Gerald McIvor.

But he said he doesn’t want an estimated 100,000 games visitors to leave Manitoba thinking there are no problems.

``My people are living in third world conditions in the country that’s been voted No. 1 again in the world as the best country in the world to live in,″ McIvor said.

And he said that’s ironic because Canada is such a staunch defender of human rights elsewhere on the globe.

``They’re projecting an international image that is not real,″ said McIvor.

Premier Gary Filmon warned any protests disrupting the festivities would bring no public sympathy. But McIvor and Terry Nelson, another native leader, said it was never their intention to ruin the party.

At the same time, they said as aboriginal residents of Manitoba they really have little to lose.

``We make up a minimum of 61 percent of the inmates in prison and one out of three native children that are born today will spend some lengthy time in jail,″ said Nelson.

``A native woman here in Manitoba is 131 times more likely to go to jail than a white woman.″

The native Canadians also have written to Prime Minister Jean Chretien asking him to end a housing crisis. They say there is an immediate need for 4,500 new houses on northern reserves.

Poverty and inequities in the justice system are two of the main issues the protest is trying to highlight, McIvor said.

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