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The Patriation Of The Canadian Constitution: Not An Auspicious Occasion

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1982      v12 n04 p10  
April 17, 1982 was proclaimed as a day of mourning for the aboriginal peoples of Canada. It was the day the British Crown irreversibly betrayed every treaty, proclamation, agreement, trust and promise made with the Indian Nations of Canada. To take a share in our land the British Crown promised to protect Indian lands and to protect Indian jurisdiction on those lands, to protect the Indian way of life.

Britain soon forgot her promises and the trickle of settlers became a flood.

For the last three years Chiefs, Indian organizations and leaders and ordinary Indian people have written to the Queen to inform her that the treaties were endangered by a new settler government constitution. She resolutely refused to respond or to meet us though graciously accepted our gifts to her when we visited her homeland.

When the Queen of Great Britain came to our homeland to proclaim the settler government's constitution, there were no similar acts of courtesy to the Indian leaders. There was no acknowledgement of so many letters to her from the Indian people outlining just how the treaties and the Royal Proclamation would no longer be safeguarded in Canada's Constitution. She could not pretend we no longer existed: the two-month "Indian debate" in Westminster precluded that. So she just pretended that we were happy in the new arrangement that would sanction one of the most massive land grabs in history.

There was not a single Indian person in the crowd on Parliament Hill on April 17th. There were actually not as many Canadians as Trudeau would have liked and there were very few French Canadians.

The big moment came for the settler government: the moment for the Queen to give proclamation to their constitution. The crowd was silenced. But several looked up nervously into the sky. The Queen looked up anxiously at the sky. It was an angry black sky.

The Prime Minister impatiently urged her to read. As she began the heavens broke, unleashing a torrential downpour that made a mockery of the banners and flags and bunting. The storm practically drowned out the historic words. For those who heard a coolly polite recording, the Queen's words reflected only the hypocracy and lies that have surrounded the Canadian government's dealings with the Indian Nations:

"You spoke, Prime Minister, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees to every person in this country the right to equal opportunity. The charter also embodies notable progress in other areas. 1 am glad to see that the equality of women Is accorded full respect, that disabled persons are protected against discrimination, and that the rights of the aboriginal people are recognized with full opportunity for further definition...

There is a historic relationship between the Crown and Canada's aboriginal peoples and I am therefore particularly pleased that this Innate respect for fellow Canadians is also reflected in the willingness of the national and provincial governments to consult with the representatives of native peoples and to work out solutions to longstanding problems of rights and opportunities."

We think of the brave words of Queen Victoria promising to protect the Indian nations from just this kind of double cross "For as long as the sun shines...". We kook at the stormy television screen and shiver. This is not an auspicious occasion.

"Quebec, Indian Protests Mar Day of Celebration" read newspaper headlines. Across the country Indian administration buildings were closed on Friday and Saturday, Indian children were taken out of school. Many people wore black armbands to symbolize this final betrayal. The Canadian flag was lowered.

In Saskatchewan, however, the occasion was largely superceded by an event of greater significance and hope for the Indian Nations here. As the Queen proclaimed a new constitution for Canada in Ottawa, in Prince Albert 69 Chiefs signed a convention to establish, an Indian Government Legislative Assembly. President, Sol Sanderson, told the press that as we were shut out of the Constitution process, the FSl has made a unilateral proclamation to spell out Indian government authority, responsibility and jurisdiction (see lead story). The sky was blue and clear; the new spring sun warmed the Indian lands of Saskatchewan.

Now this was an auspicious occasion!