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How Others Viewed The Talks

Failure, disappointment and collapse were words used by the press to describe the final outcome of the First Ministers' Conference.

On the whole, the press was generally sympathetic to the Native side of the issue. We have picked several excerpts from editorials of several influential newspapers. They appear repetitive because the press generally was sympathetic to the aboriginal cause and disappointed with the performance of the Premiers. The following are highlights from editorials in several leading newspapers.

Under the headline, "A Failure of Will on Native Rights" the Toronto Star made the following editorial comments:

"Yesterday was a sad day for Canada. The clock finally ran out on five years of complex negotiations involving Ottawa, the 10 provinces and the native leaders and aimed at a constitutional amendment extending self-government rights to Canada's aboriginal peoples."

"It was a day of frustration and failure for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in particular. As chairman of the constitutional conference, he'd tried desperately to wheedle an acceptable compromise out of 17 disparate delegations."

"In the end, Mulroney couldn't coax three western provinces and Newfoundland into taking a leap of faith that would have entrenched the right of native self-government in the Constitution."

"Native leaders were equally intransigent. They refused to budge from their position that Canada's aboriginal peoples have never surrendered their "inherent" rights to self-government."

"So where do we go from here? There seems little political will, at least among the current leaders, to re-launch the constitutional talks.


And this failure could have a serious adverse impact on land claims negotiations and other stalemated native affairs issues."

"There is a real danger that 500,000 aboriginal people are becoming seriously alienated from the rest of Canada."

The Saskatoon Star Phoenix expressed regret for the results of the FMC with a headline "Bitter Failure for Canada".

The failure at this week's first ministers' conference to agree to enshrine the right of Canada's indigenous peoples to self-government is a bitter disappointment.

It's a sad irony that by the very reasoning used by the premiers who blocked this step forward for Canadian society, they demonstrated why the country's Indian and Metis citizens badly need the protection of a constitutional guarantee of the right to self-determination. These premiers insist their governments must have the final say in issues relating to native self-government. Natives say, quite correctly, that it is that very power wielded by provincial politicians that they need protection against.

University of Regina President Lloyd Barber, a former Indian land claims commissioner for the federal government, made the appropriate comment on the insistence by some premiers that self-government be defined before they would consider enshrining it.

"I can't define 'tomorrow', and yet I'm going to wake up and go to work," Barber said. "To suggest this (self-government) should be defined is ... not realistic in terms of the way we all live our lives."

Headlining its editorial, "A Failure of Trust", the Montreal Gazette viewed the talks in the following manner:

"... it is a national shame that the drive to negotiate a better constitutional deal for Canada's Native peoples ended yesterday in failure."

"It was, in the end, a failure of trust."

"The native peoples ... were not willing to bend much if at all on their basic demand for recognition of their rights first and definition of those rights only later."

"The politicians ... would not give ... a constitutional recognition of the right to self-government, with no limits to that right included."

"The provinces, particularly in the West, that were so reluctant to recognize native people's right to self-government may now find, when the native people seek redress instead through the courts, that they face court rulings far less palatable than what they might have negotiated."

"There is real danger that 500,000 Aboriginal people are
becoming seriously alienated from the rest of Canada".

-Toronto Star

"One way or another, the political process must continue ... Settlements reached in the individual provinces may be hard to achieve, they will not have the force, dignity or completeness of a constitutional agreement; they will be of necessity uneven, better in some places than in others."

"But if they can be shown to work ... Canada's long suffering, long-oppressed native people may yet hope to see a new and just accord before too many more years pass. It is not a strong hope, but it is the best one left."

The Globe and Mail applauded the Native leadership and viewed the lack of progress at the constitutional level to be replaced by local negotiation that would implement self-government.

"One striking feature of the conference on aboriginal rights (which ended in disarray) was the impressive quality of the aboriginal leadership. George Erasmus, Zebedee Nungak, John Amagoalik, Louis (Smokey) Bruyere and James Sinclair brought a combination of force and dignity to the table that too often eludes the (other) first ministers of Canada. The Prime Minister was also particularly strong in his role as leader and negotiator, dealing with all sides. Some of the premiers were particularly weak."

"... let us be clear on one thing: this approach has failed for now, but the right of aboriginal peoples to self-government within Canada, its justice and desireability, are not at issue in principle."

"Is there another route to self-government that does not require, at the outset, the reconciliation of fundamental and disparate positions? In his closing remarks to the conference, John Amagolik referred to the emerging territories of Nunavut and Denendeh in the North. They are emerging through negotiations among the peoples of the North and between northerners and the federal government."

"Self-government in the North should soon take a dramatic step forward without prior conditions in the Constitution."

"How do we involve provinces in the traditionally bilateral relationship between Ottawa and aboriginal peoples? If one door closed this week, we must find another to open soon."