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Chiefs’ Policy Conference Makes History: Legislative Assembly Formed By Federation Of Saskatchewan Indian Nations

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1982      v12 n04 p02  
On April 16, 1982, just one day before the Queen officially handed over Canada's new Constitution, Saskatchewan's Chiefs agreed to form Canada's first Indian Legislative Assembly. And that's not all; the political convention they signed re-structured the FSI so that the provincial governing body is no longer a non-profit society but a true federation of nations. Now known as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the Chiefs control the executive and administrative functions of government at the band, district and provincial levels of Indian government.

The powers and authority of each level of government will be spelled out in the months and years ahead. Perhaps the most developed level is that of the District Councils, whose member Bands have signed a Memorandum of Agreement which spells out the terms and conditions of interband relationships and shared responsibilities at the District level. Individual bands will spell out the powers and authority of their government (Chief and Headmen) by developing Band Constitutions. Governing authority for the Federation will be spelled out in an Indian Government Act to be drafted by October 1982. In an extraordinary resolution, the Chiefs agreed that the existing executive of the FSI should remain in office until September 30, 1982. Shortly thereafter a general assembly will be called to ratify the Indian Government Bill which among other things will define the executive and its powers at the Provincial level of the Federation. In all likelihood, elections for some if not all of the newly defined executive positions will take place at this assembly.

Indian Government Systems To Be Put In Place

The re-structuring of the FSI took three and a half years to formalize and it will take at least three and a half more years to put in place legislation at all levels of the federation. Much work has to be done in the next few years to codify Indian law and to put in place an Indian justice system which will have the power to enforce the laws made by Indian governments in this province.

The FSIN is no longer at the mercy of non-Indian government laws regarding the financing of Indian governments and institutions. New Federal/Indian Government and Provincial/Indian Government fiscal agreements will have to be negotiated. The next few years will see intense negotiations take place on the

Montreal Lake Chief Roy Bird
Chief Roy Bird, Montreal Lake
Cumberland House Chief Joe Laliberte
Chief Joe Laliberte, Cumberland House

Cote Chief Alfred Stevenson
Chief Alfred Stevenson, Cote

Chiefs’ Policy Conference Makes History: Legislative Assembly Formed By Federation Of Saskatchewan Indian Nations

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1982      v12 n04 p03  
question of resource and revenue sharing, as well as the general financing of all levels of Indian government in Saskatchewan. While an Indian/Provincial Protocol already exists in Saskatchewan, it will have to be updated to recognize the new federation and an Indian/Federal Protocol will have to be formalized recognizing Indian Government powers and their relationship to Federal government jurisdictions.

A New Order of Government is Born

That's just some of the work that faces the new federation a federation that nearly didn't get formed. During the debate on the subject at the Chiefs Policy Conference in P.A. April 15; it was touch and go for awhile. Chief Miles Venne of the La Ronge Band was leery of the convention. "The Band Council is the sole power on the reserve," he stated, "I won't sign until this is guaranteed in the convention. Chairman Felix Musqua pointed out the clauses guaranteeing Band autonomy. Chief Irvin Starr of the Starblanket band was concerned that references in the Convention to the Queen in the Right of Great Britain were no longer legal given the British courts' contention that Crown obligations to the Treaties have been transferred to the Crown in the Right of Canada. Chief Solomon Sanderson said though the lower courts have stated that, it is not definite and any transfer of obligations requires the consent of both parties to a treaty. "The question is part of our unfinished business," he said. District Rep. for the Battlefords requested that they continue with the present structure until October 50 as to have time to study the convention. Chief Hilliard McNab of Gordons supported Chief Albert and Chief Frank Merasty of Flying Dust voiced his reservations saying, "We have to explain to Council back home". Chief Joe Laliberte of Cumberland House stated flatly that his band would not sign because they had not had a re-structure workshop at their band and so did not fully understand the terms of the convention. Chief Alvin Head of Red Earth said, "We are leaders and we should be prepared to make decisions here and now. There has been ample time for discussion at the band level. As a Chief I am prepared to make a decision. That is the job of a Chief - to make decisions.

Chief Roy Bird of Montreal Lake Band supported the new structure. "Saturday is patriation day," he said. "We should go ahead today and sign it, so we can stand unified as a federation for the coming battle." Senator John B. Tootoosis supported the new structure: "We've got to stand by the Treaty we made with Queen Victoria. We've got a lot of studying to do and we need unity to do it!" Norm Stevenson, district rep for the Yorkton district, said they would sign the Convention provided amendments could be made. Delia Opekokew, chief architect of the convention pointed out that provisions for amendments were built into the convention and that the clauses were deliberately general so that they could be spelled out by future legislation or resolution. Throughout the later part of the debate district reps came forward to indicate whether or not the bands in their districts were prepared to sign. Finally, Felix Musqua, chairman, announced that 62 of the 68 bands were prepared to sign. Eventually 66 signed Chief Solomon Sanderson then rose. "This is the most quiet, powerful statement we can deliver to Ottawa," he said, "Thank you for endorsing the convention."

Chief Roland Crowe of Piapot made a motion calling for the existing executive to remain in office until October 1. The motion was seconded by Chief Alvin Head of Red Earth and carried unanimously. That was it...quietly, carefully, a new order of government in Canada was born. The political convention formalizing the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations was sent back to Saskatoon for corrections and signed the following afternoon, April 16,1982.

On April 17, the Queen amid great pomp and ceremony in Ottawa signed into Canadian law a Constitution designed to wipe out Indian special status and end forever our right to govern ourselves.

In Prince Albert that morning the mood was one of strength and a firm belief that now, no matter what non-Indian governments attempt to do, Indian government will endure.

Standing Buffalo Chief Melvin Isnana
Chief Melvin Isnana, Standing Buffalo
Waterhen Chief George Larocque
Chief George Larocque, Waterhen