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The First Ministers’ Conference: A New Chapter In Canadian Indian Relations

Chief Sol Sanderson

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1983      v13 n01 p26  
The history of Canadian-Indian relationships has been marked by a pattern of continuous conflict.

On one hand there have been constant attempts by the Crown to extinguish Indian political and governmental rights as evidenced by the 1840 Detribalization Policy; the several Indian Acts; the 1947 plan for liquidation of Canada's Indian problem; the 1969 White Paper; the transfer of services in the 1970's along with a variety of administrative and regulatory processes, including the introduction of native policies and local government guidelines.

On the other hand there has been the continuous resistance by our Indian Nations to these policies and key events in history which have acknowledged Indian governmental and land rights such as the 1763 Royal Proclamation; various alliances and concords; 1867 BNA Act; our treaties; and acknowledgement of our continuing land and governmental rights and claims by the Crown.

This article does not intend to dwell on the history of our relationships but instead to discuss current events which now afford our Indian Nations the opportunity to continue to put into place and implement those elements which are essential to our requirements with respect to Indian Government, Indian political and social rights, Indian land and resource rights, and Indian legislation and enforcement of Indian law.

To do this there is a great deal of work required immediately. It is not possible to delay any longer.

Coupled with our efforts to internally establish once and for all a future which affords our Indian Nations the degree of self-determination and self-government which is legitimately ours, must be simultaneously recognized by Canada acknowledging and respecting our Indian Governments.

The Constitutional Conference was historical in that the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable P. E. Trudeau, stated in his opening remarks at the Constitutional Conference of the First Ministers on the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples, Ottawa, March 15, 1983:

"On behalf of the Government and the people of Canada, I reject again today, as I did in 1969, assimilation and termination for the aboriginal peoples, as we stand on the threshold of this new constitutional process. I reject them as firmly as I reject full independence or absolute sovereignty as a basis for their relationships with any government within our Federation."

"These two extremes lie outside the reigns of options ...

"This is not to slam the gate on open discussions but to form the gateway to the reigns of possibilities .... "... We should be looking at concepts and formalization which lead to political rather than legal solutions ..." "... We should try very hard to put sufficient framework there. It will then serve as the foundation for constructing the network of institutions, laws and government instrumentalities needed to sustain the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada in the political and cultural uniqueness they are seeking."

This historical Constitutional Conference will be remembered by the fact that the Prime Minister and the First Ministers offered to share Canadian sovereignty with the Indian Governments of our First Nations.

As the First Nations of Canada we must seriously take up this challenge, in order to protect our future generations and provide them with the powers to enforce the treaty agreements. The political and economic partnership envisioned by our forefathers who negotiated and signed the treaties is now becoming a reality.

We must express our appreciation and thanks to our Chiefs of today and yesterday for their consistency, commitment and firmness of leadership. Their action is witnessed by the enforcement and implementation of the treaties, Indian Government, and its institutions through the signing of the Declaration of First Nations and the signing of the Agency/District and Provincial Conventions of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations on April


The First Ministers’ Conference: A New Chapter In Canadian Indian Relations

Chief Sol Sanderson

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      SEPTEMBER 1983      v13 n01 p27  
16, 1982. The intensive lobby in London, England and Canada on the constitution and treaties has certainly not gone unnoticed. The fruits of these efforts are beginning to take shape.

The twenty-eight hours of evidence presented to the Parliamentary Committee Hearings in Saskatoon by our Chiefs, Senate, Executive, District Representatives, Past Presidents, Elders, Veterans and the Saskatchewan Indian Women will serve to generate greater understanding of the issues and should result in much more constructive legislation (Indian laws) flowing out of the Parliament of Canada. It served to sensitize and educate the members of the New Democratic Party, Progressive Conservative and Liberal parties who served on the committee. Special recognition must be given to Miss Roberta Jamieson, our Assembly of First Nations representative on the Parliamentary Committee, for clarifying with other members of the committee issues that would otherwise be misunderstood.

The ceremonies and prayers of our elders throughout these troubled times are a source of strength that is greatly appreciated. The support of all our Indian people across Saskatchewan in providing direction at the several meetings and conferences has given us the confidence to pursue all our goals. The financial contributions by several bands and several of the employees of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations to our Indian Treaty Rights Protection Fund has assisted in meeting the costs related to all these issues. We thank everyone, including the non indians, for their support and contributions.

The stage is now set for this generation and generations to come to direct and lead Indian Government developments so that it will share in a large part of Canadian sovereignty. The Constitution Act of Canada now recognizes our treaties and it is those rights that are confirmed and flow from our treaties that require entrenchment in the Constitution Act of Canada. Our treaties will continue to form part of what constitutes Canada and will continue to govern Canada Indian relationships. There are several concurrent processes now in progress:

The Constitutional Discussions

Artwork The Accord recently concluded between our Assembly of First Nations leaders and the First Ministers of Canada has confirmed the bilateral processes required by both sides to establish our future Canada-Indian relationships. That Accord, signed by Prime Minister Trudeau and all the Premiers did riot remove anything we already have but in fact created the forum we need to attain the recognition by the federal and provincial governments to establish and exercise our Indian governmental authorities and develop our institutions.

The Accord must lead to entrenchment of all our rights in the final Canadian Constitution. It must lead to formal legislation, protocol arrangements and confirming legislation which strengthens Section 91(24) (Federal Government trust obligations for Indians and Indian lands) and respects our governmental, land, and resource rights forever.

The Indian Act Revision Process is another ongoing forum useful to Indian Governments to establish our place in the Canadian intergovernmental picture.

A series of federal legislation respecting Indian rights to education, economic, land, resource, social and political and governmental institutions, is essential to our success.

The drafting of any specific laws impacting on Canada-Indian relationships must allow for our involvement in the interpretation and defining of the meaning of words in the construction of laws so that they more accurately reflect the understandings required to govern and regulate Canada Indian relationships.

No one document nor single act of parliament can hope to describe the kinds of powers vested in our Indian Government which must be respected by the Crown.

Our task, all of us as Indian people and leaders, must be to work individually and collectively with the old and new processes to put our legitimate governmental powers into place.

There must be protocol arrangements, confirming legislation by the federal and provincial governments, entrenchment, acts of parliament respecting treaties, the establishment of the Protectorate Office for Indian rights, and many conventions and arrangements of this nature.

All these things must begin to happen immediately I cannot stress enough the importance of timing. We must continue to build on the Treaties, Declaration of First Nations and its principles, and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Conventions.

Every band and Indian leader needs to begin to work on establishing Band constitutions and on the establishment of Band legislative and law making processes. Each Chief must work within his or her Band to pass Indian law establishing Indian governmental authorities and to enforce these laws with and on their Indian citizenship, and in their territory. Clear and shared areas of Indian Government jurisdiction must be established as confirmed by Treaties and the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

Each Chief must determine and participate in the collective work that needs to be done to set up those institutions and governmental structures required to advance and protect all of our Indian governmental rights with their respective Bands as well as provincially, nationally, and internationally.

It will not be possible to conclude this new chapter in Canadian Indian relationships unless everyone is prepared to work as hard as possible within each Band, within our collective organizations and national bodies to both establish the nature and shape of our own jurisdictions and systems and to have them acknowledged and respected by other governments which occupy this land.

Principles of Indian political autonomy will and must gain new respect first among our own people and then within the Canadian Confederation and the international community of man.

I personally with my wife, Carole, and daughters, Dawn and Andrea, want to express our thanks to the Chiefs and the Indian and non-Indian people in Saskatchewan for their ongoing support that provided me the confidence and strength to represent our issues at this point in history.