The Department of Foreign Affairs is upset over the latest First Nations foray into the international relations.
The department says Manitoba aboriginal leaders are being used as pawns by the Iranian government, which is considering inviting them to visit Tehran.
"Iran has a long history of supporting indigenous sovereignty in North America," Terry Nelson, former chief of the Roseau River First Nation near Winnipeg, told the Winnipeg Free Press.
Nelson was among two current and two former Manitoba chiefs who met with a senior diplomat at the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa this week. In February, Nelson wrote to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeking help for the plight of First Nations in the province. The group wants Iran's help to finance mortgages that would allow First Nations residents to build their own houses on reserves instead of relying on federal funding.
Nelson said he's written to other governments in the past but Iran was the first to invite him for a meeting.
"The Iranian regime is now attempting to exploit tragedy and feign concern as yet another PR stunt to distract from its own abhorrent record," said Joseph Lavoie, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
"We hope that the aboriginal leaders in question won't allow themselves to be used as pawns in this sad game the Iranians are playing."
Iran's chargé d'affaires told the chiefs that officials were "working very hard" to bring the group to Tehran, APTN News reported.
Nelson, who was turfed as Roseau River chief last month, dismissed the government's criticism.
"Doesn't Canada use First Nations as pawns? They always have," he told APTN News. "All the good Indians get to be in the front of the stage to meet with [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] and the bad Indians, 'We got some SWAT police there just in case you get out of hand.'"
Nelson's group visited 17 embassies in Ottawa this week, including Iceland and Bolivia. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo said the plea to the international community underscores the broken relationship between Canada and First Nations.
"When relationships break down, it results in conflict, frustration and anger," he said. "I support all First Nations taking strong stands to raise awareness of these issues and have it reflected back to Canada."
Canadian aboriginal leaders have previously appealed to the United Nations for help.
A recent report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticized Canada for not addressing poverty and discrimination among First Nations people, Indian Country Today Media Network reported.
APTN News noted Iran, then ruled by the shah, supported an effort in the 1920s by the Six Nations Confederacy to apply for membership as a state in the League of Nations, the UN's predecessor. The bid failed and the federal government reacted by dissolving the confederacy and imposing band government under the Indian Act.