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This was the underlying message throughout a presentation by Chief David Ahenakew on behalf of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians to the task force on Canadian unity in Regina in October.
Chief Ahenakew told the task Force the Indian people cannot begin to talk about Canadian unity, unless the government is prepared to talk seriously about the special and unique status of Indians and Indian band governments within Confederation.
Chief Ahenakew said all the wealth produced in Saskatchewan derives from resources to which the treaties gave the white man access, and that amounted to more than $7 billion last year. That was the Indian contribution to the Saskatchewan economy, and it represents approximately $155,000 per Indian man, woman, and child in the province.
The treaties, in turn, guaranteed the Indian could retain his own way of life - "our own social, economic, and political institutions". The treaties also made guarantees in certain other areas: exemption from taxation; prepaid education, health services, social services, assistance in economic development, and a number of other services. Hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering rights were to be protected and maintained.
But, pointed out Chief Ahenakew, today, the statistics with regard to the Indian situation in this country, is "bloody awful".
"Life expectancy of Indians is 41 (years); over nine times as many Indians as non-Indians die in fires; over four times as many Indians die violently; one Indian child in 10 is in the care of some government agency; the ratio for non-Indians is one in 300. An Indian is 12 times as likely as a non-Indian to end up in jail...an Indian woman is 112 times as likely as a non-lndian to end up in jail. Infant mortality is four times the national average...and, in some cases, on the increase. In 1976, a full 42 per cent of Indian deaths in Saskatchewan were caused by accident, poisons or violence...of these, 20 per cent were suicide, 12 per cent
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Fulfill your obligations to help us become self-sufficient...THEN the Indian people can sit down with the Federal Government to plan in earnest for some REAL Indian government... within Confederation
Chief Ahenakew said these statistics are merely a symptom of the real problem, which is a difference in view. It results from the failure, or unwillingness, of the Canadian government and the Canadian people, to recognize the authority, jurisdiction, status, and responsibility, of Indian band governments.
Chief Ahenakew said the government has, instead, sought to replace these institutions, assuming that if the Indians were assimilated in the mainstream, that everything would be fine...however, "However," said Chief Ahenakew, "we have resisted assimilation. We continued to resist assimilation. And, we will ALWAYS resist assimilation."
It was pointed out to the task force delegation that there is nothing in the constitution that would prevent recognition of the special governing and jurisdictional status guaranteed the Indians. And, it is within Parliament's power to re-organize the division of powers among federal, provincial, and INDIAN governments, to permit the exercise of self-government AND responsibility through Indian political institutions.
Chief Ahenakew also pointed out that this land was not surrendered, and the Indian people weren't conquered. The Indian people simply entered into a rental agreement, in the form of a treaty between nations, that allows others. to occupy and use INDIAN land, under certain terms and conditions. "But," said the chief, "You have not met the terms and conditions, and we feel it's time you did. We are not asking for welfare. We are not
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asking for handouts. We simply. want you to fulfill your obligation to assist us to be, once again, self-sufficient in our own land."
The chief said once these principles are recognized and accepted, THEN the Indian people can sit down with the federal government and begin to plan in earnest for some REAL Indian government.
Within Confederation, and in the spirit of REAL Canadian unity.