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My Reserve Is A Nation

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1980      v10 n04 p06  
“I come from the Poundmaker Reserve, ”the 80-year-old member of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians' senate told university students.

“That Poundmaker Reserve is neither Saskatchewan nor Canada,” Senator John Tootoosis said, “It's my nation.”

The champion of Indian rights was addressing students and guests Monday morning at the opening of an Indian cultural week. The event is organized by the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.

He emphasized the value of higher education to advance Indian rights given under international agreement.

He said the treaties and the (British) Royal Proclamation of 1763 recognized that Indians comprise their own nation.

He added Indians, as a nation, have the right to international protection just as the 23-square-mile nation of San Marino surrounded by Italy - is protected.

That country receives financial assistance from Italy, uses Italian currency and lets Italy carry on much of its international affairs, yet it still is a sovereign nation enjoying a certain amount of independence, Tootoosis said.

He said international treaties are made only among nations. And after the British Crown made treaties with Indians, it designated the Canadian government to live up to those agreements.

He said Indians, the aboriginal people of North America, are united by religion. Various tribes have their own languages and cultures - but their religion is all the same, he said, adding battles among various Indian tribes were never over religion.

If there is an Indian people, language, culture and religion, "what else do you need to be recognized as a nation," he asked.

Whites who settled Canada in the last two centuries talked about helping Indians, on one hand, "and destroyed us on the other hand," Tootoosis said.

"We're human. We have every right to be a nation, every right to have self-government."

Until now, Indians have been depending on the Canadian government to protect them, he said. But now it's time for Indians to speak and stand up for themselves.

That is why higher education is good for Indians, the senator believes.

He said he first helped organize an Indian organization in Saskatchewan in 1921. For 30 years he was president of the organization.

"It was hopeless when we first started." He said missionaries dominated the people, especially in schools. And Indians didn't even have the right to leave their reserves.

Tootoosis said he didn't believe in such restrictions because his people had the same human rights as anybody else.

He said Prime Minister Trudeau wants the Canadian constitution brought to Canada from Britain so that Indian rights can be disrupted.

And he said, although the federal government, since 1934, has been asking Indians to surrender their mineral rights, Tootoosis told them not to give them up.

Minerals are not mentioned in the treaties, he said. "Anything that's not mentioned in a deal is not in a deal.

"We have a lot of things to fight for," he told the students. "But we need this education. Young people must fight hard and get it.

“Many old chiefs never went to school,” he said.

“When you leave school, if you help (Indian) people with your education, we'll get somewhere.”

If white people had lived up to their agreement to give Indians equal education, there would not be so much unemployment among Indians today, Tootoosis said.

He said if bright Indian children learned too fast, when he was a child, they were held back in school. Others, like Tootoosis, were told to leave school.

As a result, Indian children didn't learn enough about white culture, and they had lost their own culture, he said.

He spoke of the Canadian government's unsuccessful attempts in 1840, 1947 and 1967 to establish policies to eliminate Indians' treaty rights.

He said giving Indians the right to have liquor and to vote in 1947 was a ploy to “finish them off.” Indian leaders resisted the idea of having liquor, especially, because they knew it would be destructive.

“Everyday, Indians are dying with it.”

He warned young people to listen to elders and to avoid alcohol, which he said can ruin the best education.

-Reprinted From The
Regina Leader Post