The Winnipeg Sun published HRC’s op-ed on March 17 entitled: "’Tehran’ Terry Should Visit Tel Aviv". Please find the unabridged op-ed immediately below followed by the modified version that appeared in the Sun’s print edition:
Winnipeg Sun, news that a delegation of current and former Manitoba First Nations chiefs may be accepting an invitation to go to Iran to discuss among other things, governance issues, investment opportunities, and human rights is especially disturbing and is an affront to the legitimate interests of Canada’s First Nations communities.
At a time when the Iranian regime is aggressively trying to develop nuclear weapons, calls for Israel to be wiped from the map, all while possessing one of the world’s most appalling human rights records; Iran is probably the last country anyone should be aligning themselves with in the hopes of procuring support, council, and for venture opportunities.
Led by notorious gadfly Terry Nelson, former chief of Roseau River, this contingent is considering the prospect of securing direct Iranian investment in the development of southwestern Manitoba’s oil field, despite Canadian sanctions which prohibit financial transactions with Iran with specific restrictions on “exporting goods used in the refining of oil and liquefaction of natural gas.”
Nelson dismissed Iran’s serial human rights violations as mere “propaganda,” as he claims that the “media paint Iran” in an unfavourable light. Yet, Amnesty International has extensively documented Iran’s serial human rights violations which include, but are not limited to: public executions, floggings, and amputations for dissidents, torture of detainees, legalized discrimination against women, restrictions on political expression and authoritarian controls on media.
Nelson’s shameful embrace of the Iranian regime comes almost at the same time when other Manitoban First Nations leaders commendably travelled to Israel to express their personal and organizational support for the Jewish state. Recognizing the shared values and interests between Israel, First Nations communities, and Canada, Manitoba Grand Chief David Harper who represents northern First Nations groups, met with Israeli government officials and visited Israel’s parliament in a show of friendship and solidarity.
Other First Nations leaders like Rev. MacLean, a First Nation representative and Pastor to the largest urban First Nation community in North America, is recognized as a stalwart defender of the state of Israel. Having founded an organization known as World Indigenous Nations for Israel, Rev. MacLean visited Israel 16 times since 2003 and was a part of the Indigenous Tour to Israel held just a couple weeks ago. According to the Prince Arthur Herald newspaper, “More than 300 First Nation individuals have visited Israel in the past 9 years.”
Indeed, the special bilateral relationship between Israel and First Nations Canadian communities dates back many years, but hasn’t received adequate media attention. In 2008, a delegation of First Nations women, sponsored by the Canadian Jewish Congress (now known as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs), visited the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Centre in Israel. According to the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa, the purpose of the visit was to “develop strategies to empower First Nations women in the areas of citizenship, self-determination, culture, poverty eradication, gender balanced analysis, and environment, lands and resources.” In 2007, a delegation from the Manitoba community of Misipawistik (Grand Rapids) visited Israel on “a technology exchange mission to receive a first-hand look at Israeli greenhouse technology as well as other aspects of Israeli economic, academic and cultural life.” In 2006, Canadian First Nations leaders “learned how their Israeli counterparts preserve their historic languages and culture as part of the first joint Canadian Jewish Congress-Assembly of First Nations (AFN) visit to Israel.”
Manitoba’s special bond with Israel was also highlighted in a 2010 visit by Premier Greg Selinger who sought to expand the unique relationship between both countries.Selinger was accompanied by two of his ministers, Dave Chomiak and Christine Melnick, along with 34 others in an impressive mission organized by the Winnipeg Jewish Federation. Dubbed as “Manitoba week” in Israel, the mission saw the signing of several agreements on commercial business development, agriculture, water and ecotourism.
Importantly, it has been reported that Iran is exploiting the poverty afflicting many First Nations communities in Canada as a diplomatic weapon against the Canadian government. This past January, Canada’s charge d’affaires in Tehran was summoned by the Iranian foreign ministry for what it referred to as Canada’s “treatment of Aboriginal people.” That Nelson and his crew are willing to be cogs in the Iranian wheel should come as no surprise. After all, Iran has promised this group full access to its state-controlled media to serve their own propaganda purposes.
Engaging in a business relationship with Iran at this time is not wise, and in some circumstances, may amount to breaking Canadian law. If Terry Nelson and his crew are looking out for the genuine interests of Manitoban First Nations communities, they should travel to Israel, a country described as a “start-up nation” and an “economic miracle,” to learn about how this nation is a leader in the development and export of environmental technology, a liberal and vibrant democracy, and a staunch defender of human rights.
Mike Fegelman is Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada, a non-profit organization which ensures fair and accurate Canadian media coverage of Israel and the Middle East (www.HonestReporting.ca)