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Constitution Commission Meets In Emergency Session

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JANUARY 1982      v12 n01 p03  
Constitution Commission Meets in Emergency Session The Constitution Commission has mandated the FSI executive and Chiefs to lobby for passage of an Indian Amendment Bill in the British parliament to continue to press our case in the British Courts.

An emergency session of the Commission was called January 30 and 31, attended by over 100 Chiefs, councillors, executive and Commission members. The Commission and Chiefs unanimously agreed that conditions to safeguard Treaty and aboriginal rights by the British Parliament should be attached to the Canada Act before patriation.

Chief Sol Sanderson explained the procedures that the British parliament could take to ensure Indian rights were protected (see special supplement starting p.23 for more information).

Chief Sanderson said the Amendment was a reasonable solution which would leave the Canada Bill intact and satisfy British fear of interfering with the internal politics of Canada.

In a conference call January 29 to the Indian provincial and territorial organizations, Chief Sanderson outlined the proposed bill. The Bill was drafted with the assistance of FSI parliamentary agents in Britain and is based on the nine points in the Treaty and Aboriginal Rights principles ratified by chiefs in Canada.

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Constitution Commission Meets In Emergency Session

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JANUARY 1982      v12 n01 p33  
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Chief Sanderson informed the commission that the bill is supported by the overwhelming majority of the provincial and territorial organizations. The Indian Association of Alberta however, intends to pursue their own amendment strategy.

Chief Sanderson said the Amendment Bill is not unprecedented. Britain has attached conditions to be met by other colonies' upon attainment of independence.

Indications from Britain are that a growing number of British parliamentarians in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords are prepared to look seriously at the Indian Amendment Bill.

Chief Sanderson stressed the need to step up the lobby in Britain and Canada. "We are no longer talking in terms of weeks and months, we're talking days now. We have at most 2 weeks before the Canada Bill goes into 2nd reading in the House. Five days if the courts disallow the IAA appeal."

Chief Sanderson said, "For some reason British parliamentarians like petitions and letters. They respond to them." He urged the chiefs to take immediate action with their bands and districts to telex M.P.s and Lords in Britain and write letters and to get petitions signed that support Indian rights entrenchment in Britain.

At the request of the Chiefs, Dave Ahenakew and Clive Linklater were assigned to prepare a list of basic points to be addressed in the telex, letters and petitions.

The Commission was briefed on the January 28 ruling of the Indian

British court rejects weak IAA case

Association of Alberta's case heard in the British Court of Appeal. Chief Sanderson pointed out that the ruling while it did damage the FSI position, to some extent supported the political and moral stand taken on the Constitution by most provincial and territorial organizations, including the FSI.

He asked the assembly to consider carefully whether the Chiefs of Saskatchewan should go ahead with their court action. He outlined the cost of the action and said to put the case before the courts would cost the equivalent of approximately $234,000 Canadian dollars. Our British lawyers required the equivalent of $23,000 immediately to proceed. In all, lawyer Rodney Soonias estimated the case would cost $500,000 to $1,000,000 before it was concluded.

Chief Sol Sanderson said at the present time we have a total of $26,624.79 in the special Constitution fund. He stressed the impor-

Gas rebate investment in Nationhood

tance of getting District resolutions signed on the gas tax rebate. Third vice-president Ron Albert outlined how the gas tax rebate will be used to generate funds for the Constitutional fight. (see gas tax rebate story p. )

Chief Sanderson was asked his opinion on the advisability of proceeding with the legal case in Britain. "I want to hear what you feel," said Chief Sanderson. "Over in Britain we get the feeling that Indians have submitted to patriation. I feel like the opposition is slipping. I want to know what you want."

Chief Sanderson said he felt "our own people may distrust us in certain areas." When asked what he meant by "distrust", Chief Sanderson said the districts were slow in releasing their gas tax rebates for investment, the memorandum on the restructuring of the FSI April 1 was moving slowly in the districts. "Will we have to go with the FSI April 1 or will we dissolve it? It's those things," he said, "the slowness of decisions, which make me wonder if it is distrust that is at the bottom of this."

Chief Hilliard McNab of Gordon's Band pointed out that when treaty negotiations were going on a small group of chiefs were given the authority to negotiate on behalf of the people. No one criticized or spoke about the negotiations because they trusted the Chiefs who had been chosen. "This was the way it was and this is the way us Indians see it today. We have given you the authority to protect our rights in the constitution. Andy Michael, Saskatoon District rep said that bands are experiencing great difficulties now. Funds allocated in the '81 budget are not coming in, band staff are not being paid and accounts are in arrears.

Other chiefs pointed out that the importance of signing the gas tax rebate memorandum was never clear to them because they didn't realize the seriousness of the situation. How gas tax rebate dollars were to be used was never adequately explained to them until this Commission meeting.

The problem, it was generally agreed, was not one of distrust but of communication. Chief Sanderson urged the Chiefs and districts to set up Constitution workshops, meetings, rallys and seminars so that band members would know the seriousness of our situation. These events could be held in the former Indian residential schools such as Duck Lake, Beauval, P.A. and Lebret residences.

District reps and assistant district reps were asked by Commission chairman Felix Musqua to indicate where each of their districts were at in the matter of the gas tax rebate memorandum. In speaking of the question, Greg Brass from the Touchwood/File Hills/Qu'Appelle district said he considered the gas tax rebate issue "an investment in our own nationhood". He said his district supported investment of gas tax rebate monies in principle and were to address it formally at their district meeting February 2.

Assistant district rep. Phil Moran of the P.A. district said he had telephoned every Chief in the District January 29th. "There is no apathy in our district. The Chiefs are very concerned and would all like to be here but our district meetings cost $10,000 for travel alone. The far northern chiefs cannot afford to come down though they want to assure this group that their hearts are with you in your deliberations." Morin pledged to work day and night to get the gas tax rebate resolution signed in the P.A. district.

The Commission then turned its attention back to the court case. Cy Standing, who had just arrived from London, said our London lawyers are enthusiastic about going ahead with the case since the IAA ruling. He said, "Even if the case is struck out, our arguments will go on record." Lawyer Delia Opekokew then went

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Constitution Commission Meets In Emergency Session

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into a detailed analysis of the IAA ruling pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the ruling. She analysed the IAA arguments pointing out the weaknesses of the IAA lawyers submissions. She said,"The Alberta case is not a judgement of the courts. It is a ruling by the council. So the Alberta ruling is not as serious as it may seem. A ruling does not have the force of law that a judgement has."

Delia and Anita Gordon then outlined the work that had to be done immediately if the case was going to be pursued. Ms. Opekokew said they have finally convinced the London lawyers that the case must be argued from the Indian point of view. She said they have agreed to argue using oral evidence which will humanize the issue before the courts.

Chief Sanderson said, "We will probably loose. I think present indications in London are that we have a 10 percent chance of winning our case. But there is the matter of the record in London: Can we leave the treaties to the narrow interpretation of the IAA case?"

Chief Sanderson went on to stress the importance of stepping up the moral and political lobby. The International Jurist Commission is still an option. Though the commission rulings do not have the force of law, they are morally persuasive. If the IAA appeals to the law Lords which is equivalent to the Supreme Court in

IAA action may cost sympathetic judge

Canada, we will lose Lord Jones. He was previously committed to hearing the Indian case. He is deputy chair of the law Lords. We may be assigned someone less versed in the Indian case. However, the International Jurists are prepared to proceed even if the Alberta case is before the courts.

Lawyer Rodney Soonias pointed out that the Attorney General of the United Kingdom will probably try to strike us out but we can argue it and bring forth witnesses. We can be partially heard for the record. He also said, "The court may dilute the good things Lord Denning said regarding the treaties in the IAA case. That's a chance we have to face."

Chiefs and Commission members were then asked, one by one, for their opinion: do we proceed in court or do we withdraw? The word from the Chiefs, Senators and Past Presidents was unanimous - we must proceed regardless of the costs. Senator Henry Langham said "If we did drop the case, it would haunt us for the rest of our lives that we didn't do justice to our people." Chief Harry Nicotine of Red Pheasant said, "We should continue on all fronts. Where there is a will, there is hope." Chief Cacey Kennedy of Little Pine said, "We can't quit now. The Battlefords made the commitment when they agreed to sign over the gas tax rebate."

Chief Frank Merasty of Flying Dust said, "We must carry on. We shouldn't forget the creator. We used to fast to find the answer. I mean no disrespect but some people could use it to give them strength." Chief Andrew Paddy said, "We have no alternative. We must continue."

Chief Hilliard McNab was in favour of court action. He pointed out that "during treaty signing our ancestors had ceremonies before and after each set of negotiations." Senator John Tootoosis said, "Taking this treaty to court, it's an absolute right move we're making."

Senator Gilbert Bird said, "We are in a very critical situation. We're scared many of us. This is the only chance we have." Former FSI Chief Walter Deiter said, "I just want to say give 'em hell in England!"

Everyone laughed at that last remark and it relieved the tension of the historical moment. The decision

FSI court case gets green light

was an obvious consensus before it was put to a vote - the Saskatchewan Chiefs would proceed with court action in Britain.

Clive Linklater then brought forward suggested lobby activities to pursue in Canada. At the top of the list of activities for the assembly to ratify was a suggestion to declare a day of mourning or "a day of bitter fruit" to coincide with Patriation Day celebrations in Canada. Mr. Linklater stressed the importance of demonstrating that Indians do not approve.

Faces fell and the room became still. Chairman Felix Musqua asked for a motion ratifying the suggested strategies. No one spoke. Chief Irvin Starr, District Rep of TFHQ pointed out that to plan a day of mourning

Constitution Commission Meets In Emergency Session

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was too negative. "It's like we're admitting defeat," he said. Chief Sol Sanderson said "Canada is planning a big celebration when the Constitution is patriated. I've gone on record in the press saying that we will have some surprises if Canada

Day of mourning considered

celebrates. We have to be prepared to act if we fail to get entrenchment before patriation. If we say nothing our silence will be interpretted as submission."

Doug Cuthand first vice-president, pointed out that it was a contingency measure only. He said if the Chiefs didn't plan something for Indians to focus on such as a day of mourning that "it is a very real possibility that some of our people will react violently. There could be blood in the streets".

After further discussion, the chiefs amended the suggestion to read:

"that preparations be made for a day of non-violent protest to coincide with Patriation day celebrations in Canada should entrenchment fail to take place before patriation.

The chiefs commended the Executive especially Sol Sanderson support workers, and lawyers Rodney Soonias and Delia Opekokew for their hard work in these critical times.

A special motion of commendation to Victor O'Connel, London coordinator was passed.

The meeting ended with Chief's and Districts' commitments to go forward quickly on decisions that have to be made to support the Constitutional fight.