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"The Canadian public, as well as Indians, will have to get used to the idea that in Canada, in addition to municipal, provincial and federal governments, there is an almost forgotten, but nonetheless legitimate form of government, and that is Indian government," Ahenakew told the chiefs.
The FSI chief's speech paved the way for discussions of the Indian government concept at workshops in June. The conference established a commission on Indian government to investigate the concept and report back to the chiefs.
"Indian leaders must not only accept, but also advance their status as heads of state, recognizing that they head a form of government with greater power, jurisdiction and authority than that of a provincial government," Ahenakew said.
The FSI's concept of Indian government is based on the premise that a sovereign Indian people with their own social and political structures entered treaty negotiations as political equals to the Crown.
In signing the treaties, the Indian people did not relinquish sovereignty, but instead agreed to a protectorate status.
Ahenakew said Indians must "concentrate collectively on firmly entrenching the protectorate status of Indian nations."
A protectorate "is a type of international guardianship," the chief said.
"It arises when a state surrenders itself by treaty or agreement to the protection of a stronger state in such a way that it transfers the management of its more important international affairs to the protecting state."
Recognition of the protectorate status of Indian nations would result in a wide, range of benefits for Indian people. It would:
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"The federal government's position is that Indians gave up all rights to self-government when they signed the treaties," Ahenakew said. "This approach Was supported by the passage of the present Indian Act which concentrates on managing and controlling the - lives of Indian people."
"The federal government still controls the decisions of what powers go to band councils," he said.
The difference of opinion on the treaties and the authority of Indian government "lies behind practically every problem that exists between Indian bands and the government."
"We must be very clear that the government has failed to identify and accept the actual nature of the political relationship between Indian bands and Canada. Specifically there has been a rejection by Canada of the correct distribution of governing authority and jurisdiction as far as Indians are concerned."
"This, in turn, has discouraged bands from exercising the authority which is ours as a right."
Ahenakew said Indians will now have to seriously consider how their protectorate status can be firmly entrenched.
The FSI's task will be to define the degree of Indian sovereignty and jurisdiction and the nature and extent of the trust relationship with the federal government.
Ahenakew also attacked the "incredible incompetence, inefficiency and lack of sensitivity" of the department of Indian affairs.
Referring to the FSI's task force report (described in detail elsewhere in this issue) Ahenakew said the department needs a massive restructuring.
"Indian governments at the band level will take the lead and the reorganized programs will support these initiatives."