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The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations is recommending that a board of enquiry be established to look into the performance and implementation of the Treaties.
This enquiry is proposed with a number of objectives in mind.
"We don't want to go on a witch hunt and place undue emphasis on the past and the failures of government to keep its promises." Second Vice-Chief, Wayne Ahenakew stated recently, "We want a full clarification of the Treaty relationship that exists between Canada and the Indian Nations."
In addition, the FSIN also plans to examine and review current Federal and Provincial processes and practice respecting the Indian nations and individual Indians.
"On one hand governments pay lip service to the treaties. But we still find ourselves being taxed and at odds with the hunting laws, to give two examples," Wayne Ahenakew stated.
As well as providing an examination of the current status of the treaties, the Board of enquiry will look into the development of formal relationships between the Crown and the Indian Nations to govern and implement the treaties.
These will include: political, fiscal, economic, constitutional and bi-lateral relations.
It is anticipated that as the enquiry gathers momentum, it will be highly visible in the media and with this, will come a corresponding increase in public awareness.
The aboriginal leaders were able to reach out to the Canadian public through the FMC process and the FSIN plans to use this process to educate and inform the public at large.
It is hoped that the board of enquiry will initiate a new era that includes positive developments for Canada - Indian relations. First Legislative change will be needed to bring current law into line with the new relationships that are created. Second, there will be the development of Indian law along with complementary Federal and Provincial law. And finally, it will lead to an ongoing bi-lateral process between the Indian nations and the federal government.
In order to reach their objectives the board of enquiry will have to examine a number of areas including the following:
The Treaties: experts will be brought forward to give testimony relating to the spiritual, historical and legal aspects of the treaties. Experts will include legal experts and Indian Elders.
Political Organization and Representation: The FSIN and its constitutent District Chiefs organization will be approached to make presentations to the board of enquiry. Also individual bands will participate.
Indian Economics and Fiscal Relations: Experts in the field of Indian businesses and fiscal relations will make presentations addressing the treaty obligations to Indian economics and funding for treaty implementation.
The Federal and Provincial Governments: As the enquiry progresses, both the Federal and Provincial governments may wish to enter submissions responding to issues raised that are critical to their respective governments.
And lastly, The Department of Indian Affairs will be approached to submit testimony relating to their conduct in the implementation and recognition of the treaties.
The enquiry will proceed in two phases.
During phase one the Commission's primary objective will be to determine and identify instances of current abuse or break-up of trust and matters that
are clearly recognized as treaty or trust obligations.
As the Commission moves from Band to Band, or District to District, or Community to Community, it will invite submissions from interested groups and individuals on both subject areas.
In order to establish credibility for the commission, objectivity will be established. Submissions will be invited from the public in general and not just from the Indian community. Many special interest groups are certain to participate.
If submissions are presented which raise issues or are critical of the governments and supportive of the Indian position and which raise public awareness of apparent injustices, the respective governments will wish to enter explanatory submissions.
Advance publicity will be arranged to bring first, the matter of the enquiry to the public's attention,. Secondly, to identify the need for the enquiry, and, thirdly, to identify the Commission's agenda and where submissions can be presented.
The first phase of the enquiry is primarily meant to identify systems abuse and matters that are treaty or trust obligations. There will not be a need for much technical investigative work or need to subpoena witnesses. Submissions and testimony will be requested and a report prepared on the information supplied.
The public probably will react favourably to this aspect of the enquiry since it is not threatening and is a reasonable approach to a real problem.
The second phase of the enquiry will be the actual investigation into allegations raised in the first report and the major clarification of the Crown - Indian relations.
Further examination into particular issues on the part of Federal Department(s) by the Commission of Enquiry itself, may require additional investigative powers sanctioned by Parliament. The Commission will make use of the access to information legislation and have the ability to subpoena documents and witnesses.
Anything less could result in only an enquiry whose conclusions are unsubstantiated allegations, since the Department(s) might refuse to release the documents or permit its officials to attend.
The FSIN is adament that the enquiry avoid any appearance of a "witch hunt". The panel will be as unbiased and objective as possible.
All data, testimony and information will be given on a "without prejudice" basis for legal purposes and confidentiality will be maintained where required. Some witnesses are prepared to give evidence only on this basis.
All rules of evidence will be followed and those considered "defendants" should be given the opportunity to give a full and complete answer, as they see fit. Both sides of the story should be told.
Once all the information has been gathered, it will be up to the board of enquiry to determine the true Crown - Indian relationship and to make recommendations on an implementation process to change what exists now, to something new.
Once the investigation is completed, a report should be prepared with the conclusions reached which will be tabled in Parliament, as well, tabled in FSIN Legislative Assembly.