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Sask. Chiefs Formally Withdraw From Afn

Deanna Wuttunee

The Chiefs of Saskatchewan met February 11 - 14 for their Winter Legislative sitting at the Prince Albert Indian Education Centre. Two important resolutions were passed. They formally withdrew from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and they directed the FSIN executive to elect officials in the Prairie Treaty Nations Alliance (PTNA).

At the expense of oversimplifying, these two resolutions can be traced to the conflict over treaties and land claims. It reflects two different attitudes of Indians in different parts of the country. Treaty Indians fear the treaties are being mired and lost in the debate over land claims. They want these special rights entrenched in the constitution and not diluted in a blanket policy for native peoples.

There are two types of land claims settlements, specific and comprehensive. Specific claims are obligations of the federal government to Indians arising from the treaties, the British North America Act and the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Treaty Indians have land. In the past decade they have been pursuing land entitlements as compensation for land lost illegally in the past.

Comprehensive claims are settlements sought by Indian and Inuit groups who did not sign treaties but who have traditionally lived on and used a specific area or region. Under this policy, the federal government wants the process and settlement final. That group can never renegotiate for any title given up. They also borrow money from the federal government to prove their ownership to their own lands. When the claim is settled, the first charge is the loan.

Since government is looking after its own interests, officials strive to put local municipal governments in place for these groups. What happens if the claim is not settled? The last figure kicked around for native land claims was $98 million.

Furthermore, prairie Indians made treaties with the government on a one-to-one basis (bi-laterally, nation to nation). In other parts of the country, many Indians did not sign treaty or signed them involving the federal government and the provincial government (tripartite agreements, three parties involved). So the groups that signed tripartite agreements do not have any problems involving provinces in their constitutional debates.

The FSIN Legislative Assembly has taken the position that treaty interests cannot be properly safeguarded by AFN. Treaty interests have never been a priority because the majority of AFN is non-treaty (ratio about 3-1). The former Chief of AFN Dave Ahenakew gave up his seat at the last two First Ministers Conferences in order for the treaty position to be heard.

"The aboriginal people are telling us that we sold out to government by taking treaty. Maybe we have, maybe we haven't. But it's that special status that treaty represents that makes us special and that we should jealously protect from now until time immemorial."
Chief Lindsay Cyr
February 11, 1986

The development of PTNA is a spontaneous and natural result of not being properly represented in an association. Indian groups have a history of not being heard by the Canadian government but they will not tolerate it in their own organization.

On September 4, AFN Chief George Erasmus told the Yorkton District Chiefs: "If the Constitutional Working Group (AFN) doesn't work, then let's change it." This challenge came a little too late with the deadline for constitutional amendments (April 1987) around the corner. It was the wrong time for treaty Indians to be taking a chance.

Although, several factions and levels form the Canadian government, Indian people are often expected to agree on everything. There are 579 bands in Canada with differing lifestyles and histories. To preserve treaties, FSIN withdrew from AFN. There was criticism, even from the Saskatchewan front, that First Nations should be one voice.

In response Chief Roy Bird told the assembly in P.A.: "We should draw a line today of where we stand. Aboriginal people have been riding on our backs for many years. AFN did not demonstrate respect for the last FMC (First Ministers Conference) only 22 minutes was spent on treaties in three days of debate. We have to stand up and be counted as treaty people. We've been kicked around in AFN. The bottom line is to protect our treaties.''

Although PTNA is a young organization, its rapid growth is a reflection of the on-going pressure for final amendments to the constitution. The deadline of April, 1987 is fast approaching. The movement to include Metis in AFN and the development of PTNA is the natural growth of two organizations pursuing their interests according to their political and cultural history. It's healthy. Each will survive and each will be around for a long time. Protocol will be worked Out after the dust clears.