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Federal Leaders Cool To Idea Of Indian Government

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1980      v10 n05 p10  
Federal leaders and Indian leaders will likely clash in the future, over the issue of sovereignty and the rights of the Indians to form their own self-government.

Vowing to continue their fight for self-government after the National Indian Brotherhood's First National Constitutional concluded in Ottawa this month, Indian leaders were told by several federal leaders that the goal of self-government was just unrealistic at the present time.

During the conference Prime Minister Trudeau offered to let Indians remain observers at future constitutional conference.

He promised to give band councils more power and speed settlement of land claims, and apologized for government's failure to satisfy Indian needs and promised to renew discussion to remove controversial clauses in the Indian Act that discriminate against women who marry non-Indians.

The Prime Minister said during the early years in office his government opposed the idea of aboriginal rights but now wanted to negotiate land claims arising through those rights.

He said little on the issue of Indian self-government, which drew criticism from NIB leaders. "I'm very disappointed and let down", said Noel Starblanket, president of the NIB. "I was led to believe he (the Prime Minister) would give us ... full, equal and ongoing participation on constitutional matters."

Starblanket went on to say that Indians were in a tough political fight and didn't rule out the possibility of a violent response to government if Indians did not receive guarantees soon, that their rights would be entrenched in the constitution.

During the conference Energy Minister Marc LaLonde also drew criticism from Indian leaders when he told chiefs that Indians would not be allowed to participate in energy negotiations with Alberta or to even sit as equals with provinces at constitutional talks.

He said energy negotiations were matters to be discussed between two governments, stated that Ottawa will not recognize the Indians collective as a province at future constitutional talks and bluntly stated Indians did not represent and were not a province.

He did say Indians would be allowed to sit with provincial leaders at constitutional talks when discussing matters that would affect them, such as with aboriginal rights, treaty rights, internal self-government and native representation in Parliament.

Indian Affairs minister John Munro announced that the government would be funding the NIB for their participation in the process of Constitutional Renewal.

"Our government understands your desire to entrench your rights in a new Constitution ... but it will be necessary to separate issues you wish dealt with," he said adding that changes must come within the context of the Indian Act.

Munro said the Indian Act seems inadequate and rigid. "In some respects it protects your people; in others it's badly outdated."

He called the act a "stumbling block" to self-government for it encourages dependency instead of self-reliance.

"It requires a large, often maligned bureaucracy to administer and forces it to meddle in your day-to-day affairs. In short, parts of the act represent an intolerable intrusion into your lives," he said.

Pierre Trudeau John Munroe
Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau Minister of Indian Affairs, John Munroe

Munro said a starting point to discussion on changing the act should be: to allow individuals to grow to their full potential; that any legislation should allow Indian people to organize themselves to achieve a higher quality of life and that an amended Indian Act should allow flexibility for bands to assume more powers in ways they choose and at a pace they feel comfortable with; that communities be given more responsibilities over activities that occur on their lands; control be shifted from Indian Affairs to the communities; Band councils should have more power and more legal status to manage all development; financial accountability of bands councils should be to their communities; and new legislation should maintain and strengthen the special relationship between the Queen and the Indian people.