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South African ambassador visits reserve


Catherine Compton, Peguis Reserve







Page 2

South African Ambassador to Canada Glenn Babb received a formal request for foreign aid to the tune of $99 million from Chief Louis Stevenson during Babb's (March 10, 1987) controversial visit to the Peguis Indian Reserve in Manitoba, last week.

Stevenson revealed that he wanted his appeal for foreign aid to Pretoria S.A. on the record to embarrass Canada's federal government for its treatment of it's own aboriginal people.

The aid would be used to rectify his reserve's chronic flooding problems, build a nursing station and new school and initiate economic development projects.

"Stevenson said, "I don't know how far the application will go, but I felt it's a strong attempt to put pressure on Canada's federal government and will make them think about cleaning up its own backyard. People should not throw stones if they live in a glass house."

Stevenson's opening remarks to an audience of over four hundred people, mainly band members, and about 40 reporters from Canada, the United States, and South Africa, outlined a wide range of longstanding issues and conditions Canada's Native people are forced to live under.

He said, "It has always been my position that in comparison to the rest of Canadian society, Indian people in general, live well below the national standards of Canadian lifestyles in every respect and are given less opportunities. It's time the rest of the world learns the truth."

In Babb's opening statement he said, the issues raised here today are global. "A global worldwide problem of underdevelopment next to development."

In the afternoon, a caravan of reporters followed Babb's tour of the reserve which included the inspection of two sub-standard homes of band residents who evidently merely existed day to day under deplorable living conditions.

Stevenson commented, "These conditions of having no running water or electricity and the poor heating of tumbling down structures in this day and age are not only visible on the Peguis Reserve, but are prevalent across Canada, one of the richest countries in the world."

Babb said, "I see these conditions in my own country as well as other countries around the world." However, Babb did not directly compare conditions on the reserve to those in South African townships when questioned by reporters.

Babb stressed to the media that his reason for going to Peguis was to see if there are similarities between South Africa's and Canada's underdeveloped people. He said, "I will be reporting back to S.A. on how policies and strategies in Canada work with its underdeveloped segment of society."

"Babb is a messenger for his country," Stevenson said, "I believe he will report back to his country that Canada's Native people are living worse off then the rest of Canadian society and if Canada wants to be exposed in that fashion, so be it."

Stevenson invited the Ambassador in response to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's criticism of South Africa's racial policies during a recent visit to South Africa. Immediately after Babb confirmed his invitation to inspect the living conditions on the reserve located about 160 kilometres from Winnipeg, Chief Stevenson came under fire by African National Congress officials and local anti-apartheid representatives who opposed the visit. Stevenson then said he would withdraw the invitation only if Mulroney would come in Babb's place, but the Prime Minister refused. Days before the visit the Manitoba Constitutional Committee of Chiefs representing 42 bands joined the anti-apartheid groups condemning the visit.

The Chiefs said the sympathized with Chief Stevenson on the Indian issues at hand but strongly opposed to having Babb, whom they regard as a racist, visit Peguis in order to highlight racist issues. A source who wishes to remain anonymous said, "The Jewish community would not invite a representative of Hitler's government to their community."

The Manitoba Coalition of Organizations Against Apartheid staged a demonstration outsid Federal Health &Welfare Minister, Jake Epp's office the day of the visit calling for Epp to put pressure on Ottawa to address the Native issues while they chanted, "Babb go Home."

Stevenson held his ground rejecting all criticism that condemned the envoy's visit. AT the end of the visit Stevenson said, "I have successfully accomplished my objective of drawing national, if not international attention, to the plight of Canada's Native people by having Babb visit my reserve. I know my decision was not popular, but at least it lit a fire under the provincial and federal governments and the public at large in coming to terms to do something about the Indian issues."

"Now Manitoba's cabinet Minister Elijah Harper, who is also Canada's only Treaty Indian Cabinet Minister, has invited Bishop Desmond Tutu to inspect his home in Sucker Lake, Manitoba. This invitation should have been extended a long time ago, regardless of this visit here today."

Stevenson predicts, "If the upcoming First Ministers' Conference is another failure, Canada is going to see more of this kind of exercise from other reserves. The FMC seems to be what Indian leaders are depending on and I don't have much confidence that anything is going to result from that forum."

Following the Ambassador's visit to the Peguis Reserve, Babb held an extensive radio interview fielding questions from the general public defending his position that Canada is a classic example of the global issue of "underdevelopment next to development."