Previous Article Next Article FNPI Search Home Previous Year Next Year Year List


Fourth Russell Tribunal: On The Rights Of The Indians Of The Americas

Clem Chartier, Saskatchewan Indian Federated College

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1981      v11 n01-02 p07  
The Fourth Russell Tribunal took place in Rotterdam, Holland between November 24 and 30, 1980. This Tribunal is under the direction of the Russell Foundation, which is a private organization. It is not a formal court of law, but does operate like one.

The Tribunal heard 14 cases and a large number of short presentations and declarations. The 2 cases presented from Canada were the Grand Council Treaty No.9 of Ontario and Conseil Attikamek - Montagnais of Quebec. While there were a number of other presentations, the one of major significance to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians is an Argument on the Constitution of Canada made on behalf of the First Nations of Canada Delegation.

The Grand Council of Treaty No.9, composed of Cree and Ojibway Indians and headed by Grand Chief Dennis Cromarty, accused Canada of violating its' land rights and lifestyle. Basically, in 1977 the Indian peoples living in the area covered by Treaty 9 issued a declaration that they were members of the Nishnawbe - Aski Nation, and that the Treaty was invalid because it does not reflect what the Indians understood to be the articles of the Treaty and therefore would have to be renegotiated. The Chiefs also accused the Governments of Canada and Ontario of systematic economic, social, political and cultural genocide. Included in this is the violation of Treaty and Aboriginal Rights by Federal legislation such as the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Fred Plain, always an eloquent speaker, stated that the government was guilty of systematic genocide and that genocide "slowly through poisoning is just as bad as through an H-bomb".

The Tribunal members ruled that the actions of the Federal and Ontario Governments were in violation of International Law in their attempts to take away illegally the lands of the Nishnawbe - Aski Nations. Specifically, they were guilty of violations under Articles 17 (1)

Grand Council Treaty 9 Delegation
Grand Council Treaty 9 Delegation
Chief Sam Bull and representatives of First Nations of Canada Delegation
Chief Sam Bull and representatives of First Nations of Canada Delegation

Council Attikamek - Montagneu's Delegation
Council Attikamek - Montagneu's Delegation


Fourth Russell Tribunal: On The Rights Of The Indians Of The Americas

Clem Chartier, Saskatchewan Indian Federated College

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1981      v11 n01-02 p08  
and (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 21(1) and (2) of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 5 (d) (v) of the International Convention on Racial Discrimination

The Conseil Attikamek - Montagnais accused Canada of unilaterally extinguishing their land rights by the legislation (Bill C 9) passed in 1979 to ratify the James Bay Agreement. According to the Attikamek and Montagnais this legislation extinguishes all indigenous rights and titles to the territory covered by the Agreement, which included a vast amount of Attikamek and Montagnais homeland and threatens their future and survival as a people.

The Tribunal found that Canada violated he Montagnais Attikamek land rights as in the Treaty No 9 case. Additionally Canada was found guilty of violating the Indians' rights to control their natural resources and economic development, which are protected by the following Article 1 of the International Convention on Economic social and Cultural Rights; Paragraph II of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples; and General Assembly Resolution 1803 concerning Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources. Chief Sam Bull of Alberta presented the argument on the Constitution on behalf of the First Nations of Canada delegation. Chief Bull affirmed the assertion that Indian Nations have the will and the right to exist as self-governing peoples. The delegation representatives explained the lack of Indian participation at the high level negotiations leading to a revised constitution. The brief stated that if the new constitution ignores the just demands of the Indian Nations, it will only "confirm the existing constitutional system of fraud, theft and racism". Outlining a number of obligations which Canada must entrench in a new constitution the delegation ended by the declaration that "the Indian Nations, are members of the Family of Nations and we demand full membership in the family".

The Tribunal in responding to this argument referred specifically to Canada and ruled that "a constitution and government cannot be imposed on Indian people without authentic participation and the right to refusal to be incorporated voluntarily is a pre-condition."

Ms. Delia Opekokew attended the Tribunal as an observer on behalf of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians. During the period allowed for presentations, Ms. Opekokew extended an invitation, on behalf of Chief Sol Sanderson, to the people attending the tribunal to attend a conference on International Law and Indian Rights in the Canadian Constitution to be held in Saskatchewan from November 16 to 20, 1981, People especially interested in the international status of Indigenous Peoples were invited to attend.

Member Chiefs of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, if interested in seeing a copy of the Final Statement of the Jury, should contact the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in Regina.