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Indians Urged To Reclaim Rights

Ray Guay

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1980      v10 n05 p09  
OTTAWA - The opportunity is at hand for Indians to reclaim their rights; it won't be there for long, maybe one or two years, and it may never again present itself in future.

This was the message imparted by Solomon Sanderson, chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, at the first nation's constitutional conference involving Indian chiefs from across the country as well other delegates and observers.

Asserting that Indians have a responsibility to help keep Canada together, Sanderson told the large gathering that now was the time for Indians to achieve the full exercise of their rights.

Must define government

"We must define the form of government we want and must tell the federal government what it is," he said. "We must define the degree of 'sovereignty we want - others are talking about it - and must define the areas of jurisdiction we wish to exercise."

In his presentation Sanderson said Indian nations should, in fact, be a separate tier of government with laws they wish to pass receiving royal assent.

"This would mean a broadening of the role of the Crown in Canada," he said.

"We see realignment in this country. Each province wants greater power and all questions being asked have an impact on our rights," Sanderson said.

His message repeated some of the statements made in a number of written presentations which the Saskatchewan federation made available to the gathering at the same time.

All of the statements were based on the first assertion that "Indian Nations have aboriginal, political and legal rights. The full exercise of these rights is the responsibility of Indian people and Indian governments."

Political rights hinged from the historical primacy of Indians as the aboriginal people of the land, continuous and unbroken self government from time immemorial, and the present political will to exercise their sovereign powers and rights as members of the Canadian Confederation.

On the other hand, legal rights arose from Indian laws rooted in the natural law as interpreted in the history and culture of Indian people as well as within the context of their relationships with Canada through royal proclamations, treaties, legislation in the British and Canadian Parliaments, and the precepts of international law.

Sanderson said treaties must be given the force of law in a new constitution and, Indians should not agree to patriation of the constitution unless there are clear guarantees that these rights will be included.

"But there are many changes which we from Saskatchewan would like to see that are not dependent on changes in the BNA Act," Sanderson said. "We must remember we here represent the vision of our forefathers as well as the welfare of generations to come.

Sanderson said more was involved for Indians than changes in the BNA Act. There was the matter of royal proclamations of the past recognizing the nationhood of Indians and treaties which, in international law, can be signed only by nations.

Referendum called waste

He also talked of the "emotional" debate going on across the country at present, terming the Quebec referendum a waste of money and time.

"Rene Levesque is in a no-lose situation. If the yes vote wins, he wins. If the no forces win, he still wins, because there's bound to be a special status for Quebec."

Sanderson said there was a tendency to look upon Indians as a racial group, the same as other nationalities that have come to Canada to become citizens. "We're not a uniform group the same as they are," said Solomon.

From the Leader Post

Chief Sol Sanderson Chief Sol Sanderson
Chief Sol Sanderson Chief Sol Sanderson speaking
at the first nation's
constitutional conference.