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Indian Organizations Observe Constitutional Debate

Keith Howell

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 1978      v08 n10-11 p13  
OTTAWA - The First Minister's Conference on the Constitution is over. And for the first time, a number of Indian organizations were present as official observers. The National Indian Brotherhood was represented by Noel Starblanket and Dennis Nicholas, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians by Albert Bellegarde and Solomon Sanderson, the Indian Association of Alberta by Joe Dion, and the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood by Richard Flett.

At the conference, Prime Minister Trudeau pointed out the need for Canada to have its own constitution in this country. Canada is the only country in the world to have its constitution resident in and there part of the world, he stated, and described that fact as demeaning to a country of Canada's stature.

Premier Blakeney, in his opening address to the conference, pointed out some of the differences evident in the various regions of Canada. He brought out the necessity of including this country's original people in negotiations.

He told the minister's that while Canada's cultural history has shaped our linguistic character, so our geography has shaped our regional character. He described Canada as a "string bean country", with pockets of people strung out over more than 3,000 miles east and west, with some bulges and northern outposts, and said it (Canada) must be strongly regional in its outlook.

Indian Organizations Observe Constitutional Debate

Keith Howell

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 1978      v08 n10-11 p14  

He told delegates and observers that there is also another reality, that of our original peoples, the Indians and Inuit and, said Blakeney "Our constitution must reflect more clearly than it does now their special position in Canada, and their special relationship to the federal government." In summary, Blakeney described all Canadians as a proud people, speaking two main languages. Again he emphasized his point that our citizens include this land's original peoples, "who have special claims upon us".

During the conference, Noel Starblanket, President of the NIB, released an open letter to the Prime Minister and the Premiers. It said in part "...we take this opportunity to announce to you on behalf of the Indian nations of Canada, the original inhabitors of this land, that we have a deep concern and a very direct interest in any revisions to the British North America Act, or any other constitutional changes...There are only three peoples mentioned in the British North America Act, the English, the French, and the Indian. At this conference, only two of these peoples have direct participation in the constitutional discussions - the English and the French. We feel it is clearly unreasonable to exclude us any longer...No other peoples-have a greater right to speak in the constitutional debates. I look forward to exchanging views with you on the nature (that) relationships between our nations will take..."

There was agreement among the ministers on the importance and urgency of constitutional change; the responsibility that rests on the federal government and provincial governments to find solutions to constitutional problems; the need for all governments to adopt a flexible approach, and, to demonstrate a willingness to compromise; and the need for all governments to devote time and effort to the task of renewal. The ministers also agreed to establish a constitutional committee, composed of designated federal and provincial ministers; to make arrangements to ensure that rapid consideration will be given by their respective cabinets to points of contention that might arise in the constitutional committee in order to speed up the decision-making process.

The next conference on the constitution has been slated for February of next year.