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Special Committee On Indian Self-Government Gives Preliminary Observations

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1983      v13 n01 p10  
The Special Committee on Indian Self-Government has been asked by the House of Commons to study proposals for Indian self-government in Canada. A number of issues coming within the committee's terms of reference were of equal concern to the First Ministers' Conference on Aboriginal Rights.

The Committee has been meeting since last October with leaders of Indian governments as well as with representatives of non-status, Metis and native women's organizations. During the Committee's hearings to date in Alberta, northwestern Ontario, southern Manitoba, coastal British Columbia, Saskatchewan and in Ottawa, witnesses have consistently linked self-government with aboriginal and treaty rights.

The Committee is only at the mid-point of its public hearings. It is scheduled to hear further witnesses from Quebec, Ontario, the Atlantic provinces, interior British Columbia, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Since the Committee has not completed its hearings, it has not yet reached conclusions.

The Committee would like to share the knowledge it has gained to this point with the public and the federal and provincial governments in an effort to promote greater awareness and understanding. The Committee has identified a strong consensus among Indian witnesses on the points which follow.

* Witnesses have said that the Constitution should recognize by entrenchment the right of aboriginal peoples to govern their own affairs. Self-government was practised by Indians long before European settlement in Canada and this right has never been relinquished. Indian governments want to be full partners in the Canadian Confederation; but through agreement, not through imposed legislation. Sharing certain jurisdictions now exercised by the federal and provincial governments should be a subject of negotiation.

* Witnesses maintained that constitutional recognition of full aboriginal title to their lands, waters and resources is integral to self-government.

* The Constitution should also recognize the right of Indian governments to make and amend their own constitutions for their own people and lands.

* Indian government witnesses regarded the Declaration of First Nations and Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Principles as central to the implementation of Indian Self-government.

* Witnesses have stated that the Constitution should include a provision which would assure funding to Indian governments, like that provided to other orders of government, preferably as "block funding," "transfer payments," or as "equalization payments." This would allow them to set their own priorities, to engage in long-term planning and to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles, waste and duplication. Witnesses claimed this approach would not be more costly than the present arrangements.

* Witnesses maintained that Indian treaties are agreements between self-governing peoples and should have constitutional status. They should be interpreted according to the principles on which they were agreed and updated to today's conditions. Finally, they should not be abrogated or changed without agreement.

* The Committee notes the importance given by Indian leaders to these issues and their expectation that federal and provincial leaders will treat their positions with great attention and seriousness.

* Having not completed its examination of these complex and important issues, the Committee is not in a position at this time to make any recommendations. It can, therefore, only highlight the representations made to it by witnesses. The Committee plans to report to Parliament in September.