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Indian Government And The Future Within Confederation

Doug Cuthand

A century ago our Chiefs signed Treaties with the Crown. Their Treaties were meant to last and build the Indian Nation and Canadian Nation simultaneously, at least this was the impression given to our Chiefs. The Treaties have never been implemented properly, they have sat dormant for a century, alive only in the hearts and minds of our people.

We are now being told the same story by the same people: "Trust us and it will be all right". The Constitution is home and the Canada Act is in place. We have been denied access to Confederation at every step and now we are expected to sit helplessly while the Prime Minister and the Premier determine the terms of our surrender.

We are at a time of fundamental change for Canada. The Government has picked up a page from the Indian Affairs strategy manual, "When in doubt recognize". Canada is facing social and economic chaos with the breakup of Canada a probable scenario. Future historians may look at this part of Canadian history as the time we reorganized the crew of the Titanic. The organization may be there but the direction is off.

So where do we stand on Indian people and Indian Governments within Canada? The key is "Indian Government". If we think of ourselves as anything less then we might as well give up and let the federal and provincial governments have their way and become Saskatchewan Indian 46 assimilated brown Canadians remembered only in Museums and the Calgary Stampede parade.

The Indian Government Movement is not new. It has existed for years in the hearts and minds of our people. The Elders, the Chiefs and the Councillors all have their roles firmly fixed in the eyes of our people. This has formed part of the unwritten constitution of our governments and follows from our oral tradition.

Under our Treaties Indian Governments were supposed to be part of Confederation. We provided the land for Confederation but reciprocal support guaranteed by Treaty never came.

In politics, as in sport, the best defence is a good offence. If we continue to appear to oppose government policies, it becomes apparent that we may have none of our own. The press aided by governments has succeeded in building a negative image of Indian leaders and Indian governments. The time has come for us to take the offence and assert our rightful place within Confederation.

In the United States the courts have ruled that Indian Governments enjoy status of dependant sovereignty. "While it may appear to be a contradiction in terms, it nevertheless sums up our status under Treaty. We are dependent in the sense that the Treaty guarantees lies with the federal government and a state of "trust" exists between the two governments. We are sovereign in the sense that Indian Government was not bargained away with the signing of the Treaty. Only nations can make Treaties. Treaties do not make nations.

And therein lies the crux of our argument. We are not minorities, disadvantaged groups or municipalities. We Are Nations. Canada has a mental block when it comes to recognizing nations within its border so the first step is clearly ours, we must put Indian Government in place. Martin Luther King once stated, "There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come". Indian Government's time has come.

Nationhood is a state of mind. While Canadians are unsure about their own nationhood, we must be certain of ours.

What is fundamental to our future developments and the implementation of Indian Government is Indian political control. Both Federal and Provincial Governments exercise control over their areas of jurisdiction so Indian Government cannot expect to settle for less. Specific areas of jurisdiction will be dealt with later but basically Indian jurisdiction refers to all those areas that a province enjoys, jurisdiction areas as outlined in the BNA Act plus any areas of jurisdiction the federal government has that would be advantageous to an Indian Government.

There are also areas of shared jurisdiction between Indian Governments and federal or provincial governments. Take for example Indian Hunting Rights. This is an area

Indian Government And The Future Within Confederation

Doug Cuthand


that the province has tried to control without Indian Government involvement. If Indian Government jurisdiction in this field was recognized, many of the problems the province thinks they are having with regard to Indian hunting rights would disappear.

There are also areas of total federal jurisdiction. I doubt that Indian Governments would care to handle their own postal system, mint their own money or maintain a standing army, although when we talk of Indian Sovereigny and Indian Nationhood many people assume the extreme. We fully realize that Indian Government could not be totally sovereign, but then again no government in the world is totally sovereign.

The Indian Political system is a model for democracy. The power comes from the people and is delegated outward. In the Canadian and western democracies political power comes from the top down, jurisdiction and the right to govern is handed down from the federal government to the provinces and from the provinces to the municipalities. To best describe Indian Government it would be necessary to take the Canadian system and turn it upside down.

Under the Canadian system, government is imposed from above and federal and provincial governments become competing empires. Indian Government has traditionally been a system whereby the power was granted to the Chief by their people and he spoke on their behalf at all levels.

Political control is fundamental for Indian Government. Both the province and the federal government exercise political control over education, social development, lands and resources, citizenships, economics and so on.

Our Treaties cover basically four areas: social rights, land and resource rights, economic rights, and the right to Indian Government. The right to govern ourselves was understood and not negotiated as a right, but is instead a right under International Law.

In practical concerns, we must look at how Indian Government can be implemented in the major areas of Indian jurisdiction.

Coin Group photo

Indian Law.

Under Treaty we agreed to obey the Queens' laws and live in peace. This was a promise that was kept by our people, but there still exists a vacuum of Law within Indian Governments today. The Criminal Law obviously applies to Indians as well as non-Indians. If we are to develop our own governments, the question of Indian Law must be clearly addressed. If a government has jurisdiction over a specific area then it follows that the government has the clear responsibility to legislate in that area. It is therefore vitally important that Indian legislation be put in place and recognized as legitimate by the federal and provincial governments.

Indian social rights.

Social rights refer to the whole area of rights related to Social, Health and Educational development.

Throughout the 1970's the Chiefs of Saskatchewan set a priority in the development of Indian control of education. The result has been that we have developed three colleges and begun development of the Education Commission. The Department of Indian Affairs has fought against Indian control and is only now in the process of releasing funding for school construction. We still require a great deal of work to complete the Indian control of education process.

Indian Government And The Future Within Confederation

Doug Cuthand

Technical school Currently, the Federation has set up an Education Commission. The first task facing the commission is the development of an Indian Education Act.

Future areas under development include a technical school in Meadow Lake, a Business Management Training Centre in Prince Albert and a second Federated College Campus at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

The proposed Indian Education Act will address itself to the Institution and philosophy of Indian Control of Education.

Through the Indian Control Movement in the 1970's the F.S.I. made a fundamental strategy shift. Previously the F.S.I. had been an organization that fought for the protection of Treaty Rights. The F.S.I. has now switched to an organization that implements Treaty Rights.

Following on their strategy the Chiefs set up a Health and Social Services Task Force to examine the related fields and propose solutions. The task force work has now been completed and the implementation phase has begun. In the future we can expect significant studies in this area.

Under Indian Government the Indian social system was intact and strong, it has only been in the pass 20 - 30 years that the so-called social problems have been around. History shows us that whenever a group are displaced from their traditional lifestyle and forced to adapt to a new and imposed set of values, the social system suffers.

One of the most disasterous examples was England during the industrial revolution, people were displaced from a rural lifestyle and placed in factories under a wage economy. In short the people lost control of their lives and England suffered an extremely high rate of alcoholism, suicide, child neglect and family violence. This is a dark part of British history that is all too often overlooked by historians.

The end to our Social problems will have a political solution and it - will require that we take control over our destiny.

We will have to put back the old values and adopt them to our changing times. We will also have to bring back the authority vested in the Elder. The Elder, for example, can conduct tribunals and make rulings on civil matters. Family law, child adoption and marital breakdown can all be handled by a tribunal of Elders who examine each case and provide a ruling. Their word would be final as it will be part of the Indian justice system and have the force of law under Indian Government.

The given statistics that we see in the health field reflect the social unrest as well as our economic situation.

In short the common diseases that affect Indian people are the diseases of poverty. The Chiefs have given direction in the past for an all out attack on the Social, Economic and Health areas and no area can be treated in isolation.

Politically the Governments will have to recognize Indian jurisdiction in the Health and Social development field and put in place the necessary funding to see the proper implementation of their rights.

Currently the Federal Government provides funds for Indian Health, Education and Social programs to the province through Established Program Financing. This fiscal arrangement is now under review and Indian jurisdiction must be recognized with a separate funding formula for Indian Nations.

"We have to bring back the authority vested in the elder. The elder can conduct tribunals and make rulings on civil matters. "

Indian Government And The Future Within Confederation

Doug Cuthand


The key to Canada's willingness to recognize Indian Government will come with the recognition of Indian Government as a third area of jurisdiction in Canada and the willingness to provide the necessary resources.

Indian land rights.

When asked to define an Indian, an Elder once said, "Look for a man whose roots go two miles deep in the land". The Indian love for the land is well known but our rights to land are considered only in terms of the immediate reserve land.

At the time of the Treaty our Chiefs demanded rights to hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering over the entire ceded area. With those rights came land rights.
"If it remains silent, it is kept", is the legal axiom for contract law. Indian Government was never mentioned therefore it was kept. Mineral resources, water and air space were not mentioned and are therefore kept.

In the case of reserve land we have land still owed to us under land entitlement and land to be returned under land surrenders.

The total area to be selected will eventually exceed two million acres. The ability to re-establish our land base is an excellent opportunity to strengthen Indian Government and our economic base. Bands can now diversify and select land for agricultural purposes, resort lands, timber lands, mineral rich lands and urban lands with industrial potential.

With the judicious selection of land and proper Government support we will be able to regain our economic independence.

The rights to hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering also included a land base to ensure the right. The traditional hunting areas have now been turned into provincial and national parks. However the recent signing of the Sipanok lease for the Red Earth and Shoal Lake Band grants the two Bands jurisdiction over their traditional hunting and trapping area and it is viewed as a model for future agreements.

The F.S.I. has requested Bands to define their traditional areas and negotiate similar leases.

Little Pine Band officially opens their Band administration centre
Indian political rights include the right to maintain administrative and executive offices at the band, district and provincial level. In July 1980, Little Pine Band officially opened their Band administration centre.

Fishing rights were also recognized by Land rights and at one time most of the Bands had a piece of land beside a lake for a fishing camp. At one time the Eastern Shore of Last Mountain Lake contained a whole string of these fishing reserves. The F.S.I. also requested Bands to research their fishing station lands and negotiate their return.

In addition to hunting, fishing and trapping lands, reserves were also set aside for Hay lands, timber lands and Educational purposes. As you can see under Treaty and Indian Government, Indian lands and Indian jurisdiction can be greatly increased.

Indian control of Indian economics.

The issue in the 1970's was Indian Control of Education and to a large extent it was achieved. The issue for the 1980's will be Indian Political Control of Indian Economics.

Indian Economic Development is like motherhood; everyone supports it and agrees it should be done. It is the implementation and control where the support wanes.

Political control of economics is not new to the federal and provincial governments. Canada was built on a partnership of business and government or developed in the Hudson Bay Company and the Canadian Pacific Railway. Contemporary examples of Petro-Canada, the Sask. Potash Corp., and the other Crown Corporations show the Governments heavy involvement in economics.

So why not Indian Political control of Economics? Currently there is a power struggle going on between government agencies, particularly the Department of Indian Affairs, and Indian Governments over what will have political control.

An economically independent group is also a politically independent group and governments realize it. If Indian Affairs had its way there would be no On-Reserve development, just people leaving for jobs elsewhere. Government programs in the past have consisted of affirmative action and training programs in Mega Projects such as the Alberta Tar Sands. Our people get a pay cheque and little else. We cannot continue to be the hewers of wood and awers to water, the time has come to set up Indian controlled Economic Institutions.

Indian "Crown Corporations: such as (SINCO) Battleford Management Associates and others are one way to pool our resources and go after contracts and business opportunities in the private sector.

Indian Financial Institutions such as the Saskatchewan Indian Equity Fund, Indian Trust Companies, Credit Unions and Banks will have

Indian Government And The Future Within Confederation

Doug Cuthand


to be developed and expanded to meet the needs of the Indian Economic Sector.

Indian Government is not socialist or free enterprize in any total sense. Anthropologists call us "Primitive Communists" and hold to a romantic myth that has no place in today's world. The fact is that the Indian Government political sytem is self-defining and created by us as Indian people. Both Collective and Individual Enterprize can be accomodated.

Increased economic activity will mean increased revenue for the Indian Governments; both through revenue from band economic projects and "taxation" of Indian incomes and businesses. Exemption from taxation was guaranteed in our Treaties. It was understood that by giving the land to Canada we would not have to pay federal or provincial tax. It is understood that under Treaty and Indian Government only, Indians can tax Indians.

Indian taxation may not be popular at this time, but it will have to be looked at in the future. Presently, the Chiefs have assessed FSI staff a percentage of their salaries for the Constitution fund. This decision can be interpreted as the first step in Indian Taxation.

Our future constitutional position within confederation is based on two fundamental  proposals, the recognition and implementation of Treaty and the recognition of Indian Government as a third form of government within Confederation.

The past centuries have been a time of open attack on our treaties and Indian Government but the passage of time has not diminished our people's belief in themselves and our treaties. The continuation of the existing arrangement with governments is unhealthy and will continue to cause both ourselves and Canada nothing but hardships.

The future, on the other hand, is very positive. Indian Government is an idea whose time has come and in the future we will see the development of our Indian institutions. It will not come overnight and there will not be any one single decision or victory, but many small ones.

To avoid the frustration of daily setbacks, it is important to fix our sights on a point in the future. By the end of the 1980's we are seeking self-sufficiency and by the end of the century we should see Indian Government and Indian people as full partners in confederation.

SINCO Trucking