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Greg Murdoch, PTNA/FSIN,
The Prairie Treaty Nations Alliance was created last year by Chiefs from the three Prairie Provinces. They considered that treaty Indian Nations should have a much stronger voice in Canadian affairs than was possible either through the Assembly of First Nations of through individual bodies like the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations or the Association of Alberta.
The Prairie Chiefs were especially concerned that the constitutional discussions among Canada's First Ministers had not given the treaties the respect or significance that is their due. They decided that a new organization was needed to press forward with their views. The formal presentation made by the PTNA at this year's Constitutional Conference, and the Federal Government's positive response to it, shows the wisdom of their decision.
The Assembly of First Nations represents many different First Nations' viewpoints from across the whole of Canada. It is the successor organization to the National Indian Brotherhood, but differs in being controlled directly by the Chiefs of all Bands, from coast to coast. Like the brotherhood, it has functioned to give status Indian people a voice on the national Canadian stage, and in international forums.
But the Crown has made formal treaties only with Indian nations in the interior regions of Canada, and those treaties lay out specific obligations on both the Federal Government (acting in the Crown's name) and on the Treaty Indian Nations themselves. The treaties are the foundation of the special trust relationship we have with the Crown.
Many of the other Indian nations in Canada do not have this explicit treaty relationship as the basis for a substantial number of rights that must be recognized, upheld and protected by the Crown. They base their rights on more general grounds, and cannot point to clear conditions that must be met by a treaty partner, the Crown.
The Assembly is inevitably unable to further Treaty Nations interests in an undivided way, since it has to speak for varied interests, and make its arguments on differing foundations. Further, the way it is structured has prevented it from being an adequate spokesman on treaty issues. The restructuring to be discussed at the AFN's Assembly in Vancouver next month is an attempt to deal with this problem.
In contrast, The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, now the FSIN, was created to give a unified, stronger voice to the individual Indian nations of Saskatchewan, all of whom share in the organization's original, main objective: the defence of treaty rights. Through all the changes which the Federation has undergone, in particular its reconstitution to vest defined powers in a legislative assembly of Chiefs, that original purpose has been unwaveringly and persistently pursued. Not surprisingly, the oldest program with the FSIN is that concerning Indian Rights and Treaties Research. Treaty renovation is high on the agenda of Saskatchewan Indian nations.
Treaty First Nations from outside the province have views similar to those of Saskatchewan Chiefs on the central importance of the treaties, and the need for their full implementation and protection. They share many other objectives as well. No doubts on this score can survive a reading of the volumes of detailed testimony give to the Common's Committee on Indian Self-Government as it made its way across the Prairies, and beyond.
This community of interest, and the need to give it concrete expression, lies behind the formation of the Prairie Treaty Nations Alliance. For
A Convention between Treaty Indian Nations was adopted and signed in Edmonton last November by the Chiefs of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Treaty One of Manitoba. They were joined in January of this year by Treaty No. eight of northeastern British Columbia. The PTNA Convention sets out agreed objectives and a structure for the organization of the PTNA. An important component is a House of Elders, which is to provide advice and guidance on the spiritual foundations of the nations and upon traditions, including treaty rights and obligations. An Executive Council oversees the day-to-day working of the Alliance.
Signing of this Convention gave a structure through which the objectives of the PTNA can be pursued. Five basic components make up the Alliance's mandate;
The work of the Alliance is becoming increasingly important with the trend toward Canada/First Nations discussions on a regional basis - on the Constitution, on Federal legislation, on fiscal relationships, on Federal administrative organization. In this way, First Nations in the prairies can negotiate for the kind of arrangements that they feel are most appropriate to their circumstances and needs.
This does not mean that the PTNA has become a replacement for other organizations. Far from it. There will Always be a need for an Indian First Nations voice to be heard at the national Canadian level, addressing the multitude of issues which are common to all Indian First Nations, treaty and non-treaty alike. Non-treaty Indian Nations will continue, too, to benefit from our advances based on the treaty provisions, as these are implemented by Canada. These are the provisions we originally negotiated.
At the provincial level, the FSIN will continue its unparalleled struggle to undo a century of colonization and detribalization, make Canada live up to its treaty commitments and further the bands in their efforts to again become self-governing, autonomous nations. The PTNA can lend valuable support to this objective. Like both the AFN and the FSIN, it is under the direction and control of the Chiefs, and they are in position to use these complimentary institutions to create a prosperous future for their bands under treaty.