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"We Should Assert Our Rights Now" Says Starblanket

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      SEPTEMBER 1978      v08 n09 p04  
"The time is past when we should wait for governments to give us powers to exercise our rights. We should assert our rights now. Only when we have political control of our lands and resources will be safe from the whims of Ottawa politicians and bureaucrats," declared Noel Starblanket in his opening address to a capacity audience at the ninth annual general assembly of the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB).

Referring to the fickleness of the federal budget makers, Starblanket stated that the N.I.B. made a presentation last May to the Standing Committee on Indian Affairs considering proposed budget cuts by the government. The pointed out that the Indians in Canada have the lowest income, poorest housing, worst health care, worst education, highest unemployment and highest incarceration rate as compared to other Canadians and "That it was unconscionable to introduce image building economic measures." at the expense of Indian people. Shortly afterward the government reversed its decision on earlier proposed budget cuts; however in August this latter decision was again reversed and now Indian Affairs is again to lose $20 million from its budget. "And you and I know what that means...more hardship for our communities," said Starblanket.

"Because the government is more than eager to exploit any divisions we have among us, it is so important to develop to a greater degree political discipline and unity in our Indian organizations" stressed Starblanket. Form this reason the theme chosen for this year's assembly was "Constitutional Rights for Indian People: Leadership, Unity, Representativity".

Starblanket referred to the National Indian Brotherhood/Cabinet decision as an excellent example of the need to develop "tighter political discipline in the ranks" if we seriously expect to assert our rights. When we make a collective political decision, we must be prepared to collectively accept the consequences. When we make a political threat, we must be prepared to deliver, otherwise we will have no creditability."

Noel Starblanket, President of the N.I.B.
Noel Starblanket, President of the N.I.B., gives his opening address to a capacity crowd of 68 delegates
and approximately 350 observers at the ninth annual N.I.B. assembly in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Speaking in regard to the Canadian government's latest attempt to ignore Canada's original people in its quest to create a new constitution, Starblanket stated that Bill C-60, the government's bill on constitutional change, made only an obligatory reference to "native" peoples and in doing so misrepresented the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Denouncing the federal indifference to native concerns, he said the N.I.B. will show up invited or not, at all future constitutional conference and BNA Act discussions between the federal government and the 10 provincial premiers. He also sought a mandate for the chiefs of Canada to visit the queen in London, possibly next spring, to ask her not to repatriate the British North America Act until guarantees are provided that forthcoming amendments to the constitution respect our treaty rights in full. This resolution was later passed unanimously by the 68 delegates to the assembly.

The rationale behind the proposal to visit the Queen, as developed by Clive Linklater, is that when the British Empire was dismantled in most countries, the authority to construct constitutional arrangements was handed back to the original people. Indian, Ceylon, Nigeria, Kenya, and Egypt are just a few examples. "In Canada this was not the case. The country was handed back to a group of white immigrants who ignored Indian nations in their constitutional arrangements," said Starblanket.

Starblanket pointed out the government's endeavours to extinguish our Aboriginal rights with their 1970 treaties such as COPE and James Bay Agreements and added "it is clear that if Indians are ever going to acquire Indian control of Indian land, we will have to assert those rights ourselves. And if takes confrontation to establish recognition of Indian rights, so be it."