By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Former Ojibway chief Terry Nelson is expected to lead a small delegation on a visit to Iran in October, APTN National News has learned.
Nelson, who announced his unsuccessful bid to lead the Assembly of First Nations in a Toronto mosque on Good Friday, was recently given the green light by the Iranian government for the trip which has been in the works for months.
Nelson, who was chief of Roseau River First Nation in Manitoba, wouldn’t comment on the planned trip which was set in motion after a meeting this past March with Iranian embassy officials in Ottawa which included two Dakota chiefs.
Word of the planned trip to Iran comes amid continued and heightened speculation that Iran is getting closer to producing nuclear weapons and hastening a military showdown with Israel and the U.S.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs department is aware of the planned trip, but officials could not be reached for comment at the time of this story’s posting.
The Iranian embassy in Ottawa could also not be reached for comment.
Nelson has said he wants to forge links with Tehran as a way to access investment for impoverished First Nations from nations which belong to the OPEC oil cartel, which includes Iran. In previous interviews with APTN National News, Nelson has said First Nations need to seek out foreign allies and Iran is an option because Western nations have never come to the aid of Indigenous people in Canada.
During his AFN election speech in Toronto this July, Nelson called on First Nations leaders to develop their own foreign policies.
“I will go to Iran, I will speak in front of the Iranian parliament. If you are a nation, it’s time to break your ties to the immigrant government’s foreign policy,” said Nelson, in his speech. “I will condemn your housing situation.”
Iran has often publicly criticized Canada for its treatment of First Nations people, but the Canadian government has rebuffed Tehran’s censure as simply an attempt by the country’s leadership to avoid admitting to its own long list of documented human rights abuses.
In the mid-1920s, Iran, then known as Persia, supported a request by Haudenosaunee hereditary Chief Deskaheh to have the League of Nations consider a Six Nations Confederacy for formal membership as a state. The attempt eventually failed, and the federal government dissolved the Six Nations Confederacy Council and imposed an Indian Act band government.
Nelson’s request to visit Iran reached the highest echelons of political power there and, this past April, he received a response from Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, chief of staff to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“I would like to reiterate my deep sorrow and sadness about the unfortunate violation of the basic human rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada,” wrote Mashaei, in the letter which was obtained by APTN National News. “The basic standards of services, for instance, health care, education and security, provided to the First Nations peoples in comparison with what is offered to the mainstream Canadians…is a clear indication of the systemic segregation and discrimination and a cause of concern for any neutral observer.”
Nelson has also faced some high profile criticism in Canada over his courting of Tehran.
Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a prominent Iranian-Canadian human rights activist and wife of Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said she “pleaded” with to end his dealings with Iran and cancel his planned trip.
Afshin-Jam said in a previous interview with APTN National News that she contacted Nelson over his plans.
“We were upset with the fact that the (First Nations) of anybody know the true meaning of human rights abuses around the world,” said Afshin-Jam. “It was quite hypocritical for us to hear that this chief wanted to meet with some of the worst abusers on the plant.”
Iran has a history of repressing its own Indigenous population.
The Iranian Kurds, which occupy the northwestern region of Iran, have faced repression from both the Iranian government under the Shah and the Islamic Republic that emerged after the Shah was overthrown.
Iranian Kurds, who have tried to establish a degree of autonomy in Iran, faced not only violent repression and the assassination of its political leaders, but also systemic discrimination in everything from employment to political participation, according to Amnesty International.
Kurdish regions are economically neglected, Kurds have “restricted access to adequate housing,” and Iran bans parents from registering their children with select Kurdish names, according to the human rights group.