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The Constitutional Battle

Deanna Wuttunee

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1981      v11 n05 p04  
It's back to square one for the FSI. Chief Sol Sanderson sent a telex to Prime Minister Trudeau, April 22, rejecting patriation following the government's failure to accept the amendments pertaining to Indian treaty and aboriginal rights protection guarantees that the FSI has been seeking to entrench in the package. This has sprung the British lobby to the forefront as the main thrust of offense of all the options now open to the Federation in their struggle for a voice in the historical engraving of treaty rights into the mosaic of the nation's being.

FSI Chief Sol Sanderson. The Federation is planning on a delegation of approximately 10 people for the trip to England around the first week in June.

However, in response to a plea from the Federation Senate, January 21, the Queen on February 9 replied through the governor general's office that "issues relating to the proposed patriation of the BNA Act and consideration of the treaties as they apply to the Native peoples of Canada are within the prerogative of the Government of Canada. As these issues are under the intensive study and debate through the normal political channels in Canada.... an audience with her majesty which may involve examination of these issues would be inappropriate."

At a recent All Chiefs Conference in Saskatoon, April 14-16, Chief Sanderson said he had mixed feelings about the London trip.

"We have, internally, to work out a number of our own understandings of Indian governments as you heard yesterday. Some (bands) want nationhood, some want to continue under the Indian Act and some want Indian government under treaty. So we have to iron out those details internally. There is so much uncertainty in the London parliament and in the Canadian parliament that the only thing we have to do is stake out our territory and secure our position whichever way we can," he said.

This apprehension stemmed from a letter read during the conference and written by Senator John Gambler of the Muscowpetung Reserve near Fort Qu'Appelle who disagreed with the Federation in seeking nationhood status and claimed the support of 18 other bands in his district. Some of these bands denied giving support of the letter after it was read out. The issue will be dealt with and resolved at the district level according to the chiefs and tradition.

"I am writing to let you know that I do not agree with the current policy of the Federation of Saskatchewan


The Constitutional Battle

Deanna Wuttunee

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1981      v11 n05 p05  
Indians in seeking the establishment of a nation within our nation. To compound the existing powers of the Parliament of Canada, the Legislatures of the provinces and the authority of municipalities by creating yet another tier of government is to smother the Indian people under a blanket of laws and an unnecessarily heavy burden of taxation. The proposals set out in the publication "The First Nations: Indian Government and the Canadian Federation", Chapter 8, seem designed, not to liberate the Indian people but to deliver them into the hands of an organization that will control their lives and direct their destinies more completely than the Government of Canada has sought to do in the past. Less, and not more government is what the traditions of the Indian people call for," said Gambler in his letter.

Chief Ron Rosebluff supports Gambler's stand and is opposed to Indian government especially taxation. Rosebluff and Gambler are working on a package to go to the Queen. Both Sanderson and Gambler do not see this as a splinter group of the FSI. "I don't see a break in the Federation. It is too solid," said Sanderson.

Although both oppose patriation, the Federation is working to get protection guarantees of the treaties in the new constitution. Among the amendments the FSI has been seeking to insert in the present package is a consent clause that will ensure Indian participation and majority vote before any changes can be made affecting Indian rights within a given area of province. As it now stands six provinces along with the federal government can define what Indian rights are after patriation.

The Federation is also seeking establishment of an Office of Indian Right Protection at the federal level regardless of the outcome of the patriation package. This office will serve as the agency for the redress of Indian claims and grievances as well as to implement and protect treaties.

"We are looking for an Order-in-Council to be passed by the British Parliament and the Canadian Parliament, jointly, to put the Indian rights protection office in place," said Sanderson at the conference.

It will also advance the recognition of Indian law as prepared by the Indian governments at the band, provincial and national level. The chiefs of the Federation as representatives of the Indian people of Saskatchewan have three options to fight for the guarantees of protection of treaty rights. They can continue an 11th hour battle to block patriation, work with what's there now and exhaust all avenues with British, and Canadian lobbying for the guarantees or declare independence as Indian nations.

In his opening address, Chief Sanderson said, "This will be the most historic conference we've had in a long time because of the issues we face. The 1980 decade will see us at the most serious crossroads of our life since the treaties and we have to make some pretty clear choices. We cannot deal in generalities. We have to clearly spell out what our positions are going to be. There will be some differences but the choice will be as clear to us as it was 100 years ago to our people. You are chiefs of Nations. The word, "Nations" breeds fear among white people and false fear among ourselves. We must deal with these fears."