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Prime Minister Trudeau's unilateral action to bring the constitution to Canada has inadvertently advanced the cause of creating meaningful Indian governments by 25 years, he added.
At the end of the three day conference, the chiefs hammered out a draft constitutional position and several alternate strategies to block patriation until they are assured of the entrenchment of treaty rights in the proposed new constitution.
A guest speaker, Saskatchewan Attorney-General Roy Romanow, said his government 'tentatively' believes that treaty and aboriginal rights presently enjoyed by status Indians will be guaranteed in the proposed constitution and that nothing in Prime Minister Trudeau's package will alter the relationship between Indians and the Crown. He added that if the FSI constitutional committee can present a convincing case, the Saskatchewan submission will request that 'traditional Indian rights' be safeguarded in an amendment to the present charter.
National Indian Brotherhood Vice-president Sykes Powderface said the Canadian government does not have the legal right to renegotiate Indian treaties. He added the only way to extend the time frame for patriation of the constitution is determination and persistence to explore and exhaust all channels to make Indian people heard. Monitoring and coordinating the consolidation of a unified national position of provincial and territorial member organizations has been the main function of the Brotherhood since the elections. Clarifying, in precise terms, what treaty and aboriginal rights are and strengthening the positions of Indian government are presently the two main objectives, he said.
"I am personally glad the day of reckoning is upon us. We must do the work we have to do (entrenchment of treaty rights). Unlike the 1969 White Paper Policy crisis, we cannot enter the arena and then take a rest," said Dave Ahenakew, chairman of the constitutional commission.
The three day conference consisted mainly of discussion groups with only morning sessions of speakers.
During a group discussion, Saskatchewan President of the Veterans Association, Ernest Crowe, made a progress report. He stated that Indian people did not have to fight in the wars, but did.
They did not receive any compensation, financially or through land allotment after the war as was the right of all Canadian veterans. They came back and had to fight the suppressive tactics of Indian agents, especially the permit system which curtailed all mobility off the reserve and selling or buying economic resources like cattle or grain without prior approval of the agent.
"The veterans are now seeking compensation... their nationhood!" he said.
Attorney General Roy Romanow.
Constitutional talks at Saskatoon, November 25-27.
Chief Sol Sanderson and Cliff Starr.
Upon patriation, the link with the Crown will be severed and the fate of Indian people and the treaties will be decided by the Canadian government. (Trudeau once called Indian people social burdens.)
The FSI constitutional position, which has emerged from meetings throughout the province with the bands, contains three basic components.
The first is seeking entrenchment of treaties and all associated rights in the constitution. The chiefs would prefer a British parliament entrenchment but will likely settle for a Canadian government guarantee.
The second component is a demand that the link with the British Crown be maintained and clarification of possible effects patriation will have to this trust relationship.
The third component is a demand for the recognition of Indian governments as the third form of government equal in stature to the federal and provincial governments.
This can be done through the inclusion of a section 93 in the British North America Act recognizing the powers of Indian governments. It will also include the separation of powers, powers of Indian governments and inter-relations of governments; imperial, Canadian and provincial.
Alternate strategies in the battle to be heard and recognized are United Nations lobbying and United Kingdom lobbying of British MPs and several non-governmental agencies.
The Saskatchewan delegation went off to Ottawa during the first week in December to the National Assembly of First Nations to forge a national constitutional position.