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This is the first time all Saskatchewan reserves made up of 69 Chiefs and staff members totalling 100 strong were represented in Ottawa at the Parliament buildings. It is believed that this is the second time in Canadian history that an all Chiefs delegation confronted members of the Federal Parliament. The first being from members of the Alberta Association of Chiefs a few years back.
Chief Ahenakew opened up the session and strongly criticized the past polices of the Department of Indian Affairs. He gave an outline of the charts of statistics that were deliberately placed for the M.P.'s to see. The charts indicated that Indians are not getting a fair share in education, employment, law, health, and other opportunities enjoyed by Saskatchewan residents.
The charts really shook up the M.P.'s and they admitted afterward that they did not realize Canada's first citizens were, in a very deplorable position besides the dominant society.
Chief Ahenakew had called for the "absolute and unconditional" withdrawal of the new local government guidelines which, he said, were a disguise for a government policy aimed at the termination of Treaty Indians special status.
Chief Ahenakew also made known to Otto Lang of a position paper that is in direct contrast with the guidelines. The book is called "Our Way", which was drafted up to suit the needs of the Saskatchewan Indian people. The position paper demands that Parliament:
The paper also outlines the historical record of the federal government with respect to Indian people, portraying the relationship which has evolved between Indians and the government as a double-edged sword. The paper states that, "Any governmental proposals to grant greater self-determination to Indians have been accompanied by proposals to terminate Indian rights and status."
Chief Ahenakew also urged the federal government to establish as a pilot project, a management board for Indian Affairs' Saskatchewan region comprised entirely of Indian representatives.
Chief Tony Cote rose up to declare a fair shake in the special rights that are enjoyed by other Canadians in this country. He used the French Canadians as a prime example stating, "By Treaty and by Acts of Parliament, French Canadians are guaranteed special rights and status within Confederation. French Canadians continue to enjoy-and rightfully so-the maintenance and defence of their special rights and status."
He continued by saying, "Likewise by Treaty and by Acts of Parliament, Indians are guaranteed special rights and status within Confederation. We are asking that our special rights and states enjoy the same respect and guarantees as those of the French Canadians."
Chief Ahenakew assured the M.P.'s that the Indian delegation gathered here are the true voice of the Saskatchewan Indian leaders. He said, "Unlike last year's violent demonstrations, we came here in peace and not as demonstrators and radicals."
He also warned the M.P.'s that racial strife might erupt as he painted a very gloomy picture in the years ahead if the Indian problem is not desk with immediately.
Leo Cameron, Saskatoon District Chiefs Representative, a delegate from the Beardy's Reserve, took the floor to add assurance of peace and extended his hand in friendship on behalf of the Chiefs.
Mr. Cameron stated, "Peace was stressed in the signing of the Treaties. We would like to assure you that we would like to join hands with you and assure you that we are here to continue to live in peace and harmony as our forefathers have agreed many years ago."
Saskatchewan Opposition Leader Dave Steuart and a colleague of the present federal government gave a moving speech in his firm support to the Indians. Mr. Steuart's message to the Ministers and Chiefs was that the "local government guidelines must be changed."
He assured the M.P.'s that the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians is a democratic organization. "The FSI is a powerful organization and is lead by a very powerful man," he said.
The Saskatchewan Opposition Leader, who had accompanied the Chiefs on their chartered flight to Ottawa, June 17, is convinced advances which could have been made has been stopped by "some Indian Affairs bureaucrats afraid for their jobs."
Responding to the speakers for the Indian cause and speaking for the Liberal Cabinet Ministers and other M.P.'s present, Mr. Lang offered the Chiefs three assurances:
"There is no way we can ignore the strength of feelings about the guidelines and the apprehensions created by them among the Saskatchewan Indians; We cannot and will not allow anything to endanger the traditional position of Chiefs and Band Councils or the organizations Indians have chosen to represent them; We cannot and will not allow the continuation of any idea which may lead to the termination of the distinct identity and culture of Indians," the Justice Minister said.
With that, the Chiefs were ignited into giving the Minister of Justice and his colleagues a thundering round of applause and a standing ovation. This gave them the lift in their fight to have equality, consultation, and the right to direct their lives and rights, contrasting the Indian Affairs bureaucratic plans.
Liberal MP'S and Saskatchewan delegates.
JUSTICE MINISTER OTTO LANG
Chief Ahenakew addressing the Liberal MP'S.
Part of the Saskatchewan delegation.
Saskatchewan Chiefs and supporters.
Saskatchewan Chiefs and delegates entering the
Federal Parliament Buildings to begin the first of
three days of meetings with the federal government.