Attempts to achieve Native self-government encountered a stumbling block with the election of a Conservative national government in 1984. Concentration was focused on the constitutional problem, and federal attention was directed toward the negotiation of the Meech Lake Accord. Under the accord, which had been agreed upon by the Prime Minister and the provincial premiers, the province of Quebec would be constitutionally recognized as a distinct society. For it to take effect, however, the agreement required ratification by the provincial legislatures within three years. Native representatives had been shut out of the constitutional discussions, and Native leaders were discouraged by this evidence that their concerns were less important than those of other special groups in Canada. Elijah Harper, an NDP member of the Manitoba Legislature and Chief of the Oji-Cree band of Red Sucker Lake, objected to the government's actions and was in a position to do something about it. With time running out, Harper chose to withhold his vote from the unanimous consent required to override the standard parliamentary procedure and allow a vote on the accord to be held. Supported in his actions by the Speaker of the Manitoba Legislature, Harper prevented Manitoba from considering the accord, thereby effectively defeating it. In doing so, he served notice that the Aboriginal peoples of Canada would not be ignored in the constitutional restructuring of the nation. Harper's defeat of Meech Lake took place in June of 1990, adding to the emotional tension during the Oka crisis in Quebec that began the next month.

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