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That was the conclusion reached by members of the F.S.I.'s Constitution Commission meeting in Saskatoon January 7 and 8.
Some Commission members were present as well as executive members FSI lawyers and representatives from BC, Alberta, Manitoba and Northern Ontario, who brought information regarding the work being done on the constitution by their respective organizations both legally and politically.
Much attention during the two day meeting was centered on the continuing fight to stop patriation in Britain.
In his opening address to the Commission, Chief Sol Sanderson said the situation in London was changing rapidly, almost hour by hour. He stressed the necessity for decisions to come from the Commissions deliberations.
Chief Sanderson updated the Commission on events taking place in London and in Canada between the provincial and territorial organizations.
He said that Indian initiatives in Britain were not being reported accurately by the Canadian press and cautioned the Commission against believing media reports. As a case in point he mentioned media reports in December which said the Indian Association of Alberta's case had been turned down by the British courts. He said the IAA did in fact lose the right to go to court but appealed the decision at another level and were granted permission to advance their case in the Court of Appeal. The latter fact was not widely acknowledged in Canadian reports coming from Britain, so it looked as though the IAA had lost. The Commission was informed of the various court cases being advanced by the I.A.A., the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the Federation.
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At a meeting held December 15 and 16 in Saskatoon between the organizations of the four western provinces, it was agreed that though cases differed substantially, research,legal and political action would be co-ordinated and information would be shared between the four organizations.
It was agreed at that meeting that the IAA would proceed with their legal challenge first, followed by the
UBCIC and the Four Nations Confederacy who will pursue a joint action, then the Federation would put forward its case.
Chief Sanderson acknowledged the Commission's concern that legal action should not be the only avenue pursued by the Federation. He said that the British court system will only allow legal arguments to be heard.
The International Jurists Association has agreed to hear Indian arguments on the entrenchment of aboriginal and treaty rights in the Canadian constitution. The International Jurists Association is a volunteer group of elite jurists from around the world. Though decisions of the International jurists are not legally binding, they carry a lot of weight. The International jurists Association will hear the legal, political, historical and moral arguments. Chief Sanderson said, "It will be a forum where the whole story may be told."
The FSI has been in contact with the Association and Lord Jones of Great Britain will preside at the hearing which is scheduled at the end of February. Chief Sanderson said that another cultural/political tour to Britain is planned for mid-February.
Alberta, B.C., Manitoba and Northern Ontario's Treaty 9 area are interested in co-operating in the venture. He said Indian cultural troups attract large crowds in Britain and provide a forum to lobby the British public to support the Constitution fight and thereby influence their members of parliament.
Closer to home, Chief Sanderson told the Commission that the First Nations Assembly will be held in Penticton, B.C., April 20 to 22. He said it was important to establish a protocol agreement between the Indian nations which would spell out how we should work together both at the provincial and national level.
He requested that the Constitution Commission attend the conference and a motion was passed to that effect.
The Commission then discussed the various avenues the Federation could pursue to safeguard the treaty. There was consensus that whether or not the constitution is patriated there is a need to ensure that safeguards are instituted. A motion was passed that an international treaty between Canada, Britain and the Indian nations be drafted for further protection of our treaties. The treaty will spell out the terms of a continuing relationship between the British Crown, Canada and the Indian nations. It was the view put forward by the Senators that the treaties were signed with the British Crown and
that relationship should continue so as to safeguard the spirit and intent of the treaties.
The Commission sanctioned the implementation of the Indian Rights Advocacy Office giving lawyer Rodney Soonias the go ahead to further develop the principles and mechanisms of the office. The Commission decided that a motion should be put forward in the British House between second and third reading of the Canada Bill. The substance of the motion would be the nine points of the Treaty and Aboriginal Rights principles ratified by Chiefs across Canada (see December issue Sask. Indian).
After a lengthy and thorough discussion, which carried on well into the second day, the Commission voted in favour of pursuing legal action in the British Courts. Sir Geoffrey Bindman FSI solicitor in London was present on the first day. He cautioned against putting all our faith in the British Court System.
On the recommendation of Chief Miles Venne, all Senators and past
presidents gave their carefully considered opinions on the legal case. Senator Henry Langan said, "I hope the legal arguments would not. detract from our moral right to exist as a nation of people". Senator John Tootoosis said, "We have to go after the nation we signed the treaty with Great Britain. Both signatories have to agree to any changes affecting the treaty. This is not just heresay. This is a dead fact." Past Chief Dave Ahenakew said, "Now is the time to take risks. This is the Indians last chance. We haven't got the time to take it back to our bands for consideration. God knows we'd like to. There's just no time left."
Chief David Knight said, "We Indians are on third base. We're coming in to home base. It's either win or lose. We have to try everything now."
From the decisions made by the Constitution Commission it's clear Saskatchewan Indians are willing and able to try anything to protect their treaties.