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Powers For Indian Government Demanded: FSI Advocates Nation’s Status

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE/JULY 1977      v07 n06 p07  
Indian band council must take the initiative in grasping sovereign political powers which they still possess as representatives of Indian nations, according to an FSI report on Indian government recently released.

"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," the 130-page report states.

The report argues that Indians have derived their sovereign powers from their status as nations at the time of the signing of the treaties. Indian nations encountering the Canadian nation on an equal footing did not, during treaty negotiations, give up their right to self-government, it states.

The report on Indian government represents for the FSI a significant step in the development of a comprehensive political theory on which to base future action.

It incorporates past pronouncements on treaty rights and the federal-Indian trust relationship, but introduces these concepts in the new context of Indian nationalism.

The report was released at an Indian government workshop held in Saskatoon in early June. More titan 250 individuals from band councils throughout the province and the FSI staff participated in the three day seminar.

The workshop was intended as the first in a series which will be held at district levels province-wide. An FSI commission on Indian government will also be holding public hearings during the next 12 months.

"It is urgent that Indian leaders act now to secure our position as self governing Indian nations," the report urges.

"The general conditions of deprivation and underdevelopment existing in our communities are simply symptoms of the Canadian government's deliberate rejection and lack of recognition...for the authority and jurisdiction of Indian government."

The report says "Indian leaders are obligated to ensure that Indian rights are maintained intact for all future generations of Indians."

Contrary to the view held by the federal government, Indians have complete jurisdiction and control over reserve lands, it argues.

"By treaty, Indians reserved lands for themselves-since it was their own land. Canada did not reserve lands for Indians since Canada did not have land to give until after the treaties were signed."

Under the present Indian Act, reserves are viewed as federal Crown property held in trust for Indians. The Act does not recognize Indian ownership of reserves.

The paper says Indian bands are qualified to exercise powers of self government, including the power to:

The need to pass legislation "in order to authorize the expenditure of funds to fulfil treaty obligations has been broadly interpreted and abused to give the (federal) government the power to interfere in the internal "affairs of Indian governments," the paper contends.

"Indians did not give the Canadian government the right to usurp the authority and powers of Indian governments. They simply exchanged land for the guarantees of special rights, status and assistance."

The paper says the treaties established an implied trust relationship between the federal government and Indian nations. And, by the nature and definition of trust, the trustee, the federal government, is obliged to act always in the best interests of Indian people.

"Under no circumstances can Canada in furtherance of other obligations, act in competition with the Indians or in derogation of their rights."

"If Parliament were to carry out the policy of exercising its power over Indian affairs in the most beneficial manner for Indians, parliamentary actions would strengthen Indian sovereignty.

"An Indian Act revised to enable Indian governments to exercise their inherent sovereign powers more fully is the mechanism by which the federal government's trust responsibility could be fulfilled.

"In short, Parliament has the power, the responsibility and the obligation to grant Indian people the resources to become more self-governing."

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Powers For Indian Government Demanded: FSI Advocates Nation’s Status

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE/JULY 1977      v07 n06 p08  
Instead of promoting this goal, however, the federal government has continually obstructed Indian government, the paper says.

"Behind the refusal of administrative officials to allow a meaningful measure of self-government is an attitude (primarily racist) that. Indian people are unable to govern themselves without external supervision."

"The federal government-and the provincial government-must stop treating band governments if they were fellow civil servants or else simply municipal governments.

"And some band councils must stop acting as if they were just civil servants or just municipal governments.

"They must recognize that they are representatives of an Indian nation and that they are also obligated to assure our trustee. Carries out the responsibilities of the trust-which is always to act in the best interest of Indian people even when that is not in the best, interest of the Canadian public."