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Indianism And Treaty Rights Should Last

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FEBRUARY/MARCH 1980      v10 n2-3 p09  
A Columnist for the Toronto Sun, Douglas Fisher, wrote a series of articles late last year on the Indian people in Canada -- on Special Status, and whether it is fair; on Government spending to fund Indian programs; and on the Spirit of the Treaties.

In response to these articles, Mr. Fisher ran an additional column -- on what "Native People Want". The following constitutes the text of that final articles, as written by Fisher.

".....I wrote columns about the native peoples' juggernanut (that is, anything which demands blind devotion - Editor's note) and why I thought "Indianism" should end. The MP for Regina East, Simon de Jong, has many Indian constituents and disagrees with me. He writes: "First, I must say that I believe you suffer from a misunderstanding of the Treaties. It was the white man who wanted the treaties and access to the land that the Indians had inhabited for over 20-thousand years.

"When the Indians signed the Treaties they were not signing a document that would last only a few year -- they were signing a document that would serve all the generations of Indians that would follow them.

"It was the white man who said that the treaty would be binding forever. . .'As long as the rivers flow and the sun shines.'

"Just as many of us have some confusion understanding that Confederation was an economic proposal -- some people do no recognize that the treaties were also an economic document.

"In return for certain perpetual rights, the Indians surrendered to us their land. Economically, the white men have done very well by the treaties. The Indians have not done as well as you suggest. The treaties stated that the Indians would receive `an equitable share of all wealth gained from land surrendered.' In Saskatchewan (the jurisdiction best known to me) the Indians have not received an equitable share of the wealth. (Emphasis added).

"For example: the gross provincial product of Saskatchewan last year was 7.7 billion dollars. Indians should, who represent some 501 of the population, should by right of treaty receive some 350 - million dollars. Instead, 70 - million dollars was earmarked for Saskatchewan Indians. Of this amount, 80% was for administration. Indians and Indian organizations received only 14 - million -- hardly a fair share.

Again, in Saskatchewan, Indians have as yet only received one third of the lands that they are entitled to by the treaties. I know that Saskatchewan has gone further than any other province in settling land claims, yet Indians have only one-third of their legal entitlement. And this is over 100-years after the signing.

You talk of the vast amounts of money that Indians receive ever year. Indians never see most of it - it is usually spent for and by white bureaucrats.

"Regina East... has a large number of people of native ancestry Most of these people are living in an urban area. The problems the are created when a people who were historically nomadic, rural and self-sufficient are forced into the city are problems acutely felt in Regina.

"Problems of unemployment, alcoholism, welfare dependency crime and suicides are problems that affect our community as a whole. While there are no easy solutions, the reality is such that it is imperative that solutions are found.

"Indian people don't want to live their lives dependent upon welfare handouts from some bureaucrat. They have been forced into this dependency role for too long. They now seek the means whereby they can as a people regain their pride.

"Toward this end, the land claims must first be settled. The longer these settlements are delayed, the more difficult it will become. Secondly, Indian people must gain a greater measure o control over their lives. We must stop doing things for Indian people - they must have the resources to do things for themselves.

"What Indian people are asking for is no different that what every other Canadian wants - a decent home, good health an education systems, a secure source of income with dignity. We shouldn't begrudge native people asking for this - rather we should be joining with them and insisting that this should be a right for all Canadians.

"Indianism is not just some romantic notion. To most Indians it doesn't mean abandoning modern society and reverting to the old way of life. However, it does not mean abandoning their past and just becoming `simply Canadians.' There is something well worth preserving - an outlook on life that is globally spiritual rather than competitively materialistic. I believe that the Indian tradition has valuable contribution to make to all humanity.

Indian people are going through a difficult process in trying to evolve a lifestyle that will be viable in our society while also in tune with their traditions. Their success could well become our hope as we struggle with pollution, the energy crisis, unemployment and man other social and psychological problems of our age.

"The `Indian problem' grew from our incursion into their lives. I would like to close by quoting from an early North America philosopher:` . The white man is smart, but not wise.