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Strong, Viable Future Required for Natives
Criticizing those who criticize The Federation, of Saskatchewan Indians, Chief David Ahenakew said part of the blame rests with Federation members themselves for the FSI is you and the people you represent".
Addressing close to 200 delegates from all over the province attending the three Day Chiefs Conference, which opened March 29th at the Coronet Motor Hotel, Chief Ahenakew said because the Indians have stood together to face the white man, "We have moved the government to give us great measure of control over our own affairs. We are picking up the bat and ball and the whole game is quickly becoming ours".
Recalling the olden days, Chief Ahenakew said it was a far cry from the days of domination by the department of Indian Affairs.
Buts mark my words. The day is rapidly coming when we will be running our own affairs and if things don't work out we don't have anyone to blame but ourselves he said.
Reviewing activities of the Federation since the last council of Chiefs in October 1970, Chief Ahenakew said the eight-point program presented at the time has seen much progress made in all areas. "However, we have the difficult task of trying to map out a strong and viable future for our people."
"Our task is compounded by those who attempt to create an image of disunity among ourselves. There are those who are attempting to, paint our efforts as destructive and negative. There are those who ask many people how they control the Executive of this organization."
"Control of people is dictatorship and can be a deterrent, especially to those who you elected to be your leaders," he said, adding there must be trust if Indians are to continue to exist as an Indian people."
"The community development program, with an additional 20 persons working for this important part of the eight-point FSI program, is making headway while the task force on education is almost ready to produce its recommendations which will reflect the opinions of those involved and which can be presented to the department to bring about improvements in the education of Indian children."
"Some of the questions being considered are the type of school desired -- Are we going to continue residential school systems or integrated schools or on the reserve schooling Chief Ahenakew asked.
"There are lots of problems in education. It is true that education is the key to progress. But we must determine the best educational system for our people, he said.
Touching the question of Indian culture, Chief Ahenakew said the Indian Cultural Centre established at Emmanuel College in Saskatoon is conducting numerous training programs involving the young and the old in the areas of language development, old stories and dances. "It is my hope that this centre will become a focal point in terms of providing service to all Indians of the province," he said, adding that there is a possibility the University of Saskatchewan may use the Cultural Centre facilities to provide credit courses in Indian history and languages."
Other subjects dealt briefly by Chief Ahenakew covered the formation of a committee with the FSI and the department of Indian Affairs to review programs, policies, budgets, economic development, winter works, which he said were far too limited to be of much help, the matter of discrimination charges presently being investigated by the attorney general's department, and Indian treaties.
"In October I said that our treaties are not negotiable and we will not negotiate them. Our stand of the FSI is the same, today and shall stay the same," Chief Ahenakew said adding however, that much research is still necessary.
However the British North America Act gave the federal government the responsibility for Indians and Indian lands. And the provincial government has no bloody right to legislate for Indians," he said.
Responsibility for Medicare Provides Continuing Battle
The history of the Indians continuing battle with governments over responsibility for Medicare was covered briefly by the Chief who referred to the provincial and federal government regulations.
According to the regulations a treaty Indian is covered for one year after leaving the reserve. From then on he is liable to pay Medicare and hospitalization insurance.
A test case, Involving Andrew Swimmer and his non-payment of hospitalization and Medicare premium, was won at the magistrate's court level and lost at Queen's where he was found guilty and fined $1. It is expected to go to the Court of Appeal and possibly the Supreme Court.
The FSI submitted a brief to the provincial government requesting changes in the regulations affecting Indians but the only response from the provincial government was a "rather-strange press release from Health Minister Grant to the effect that we had not contacted him after our brief, therefore we must be no longer interested in the issue. Chief Ahenakew said. Therefore so, Grant and everyone else might know exactly where we stand, let me make this very clear once and for all:
"The Federation of Saskatchewan Indians firmly believes that Medicare is a treaty right and Indian people must receive this service whether they live on or off the reserve," he said.
Must Help All
In closing, Chief Ahenakew said the role of the FSI is to help all Indians to shoulder their responsibilities. "But jealousies, divisions, must stop. We must strive together to correct these inconsistencies and must look on the positive side. If we fail, we fail not only ourselves, but our future generations.