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FSIN Uses International Forum

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MARCH 1988      p14  
On February 14, Second Vice-Chief of the FSIN, Wayne Ahenakew, attended the World Council of Indigenous People's (WCIP) Summit held in Nicaragua. He then went on to the 44th session of the Commission of Human Rights Conference in Geneva, Switzerland from February 22 to 26.

Ahenakew, representing the FSIN, was invited to the WCIP summit along with agencies from other countries who support Indigenous Peoples in Nicaragua and Central America. At the summit, he lobbied for support for the Prairie Treaty Nations Alliance (PTNA) who are trying to gain status as an International Non-Governmental Organization (NGO).

The FSIN has assisted in establishing the PTNA who are dedicated to ensuring that the Treaties made between Indian nations and the Crown are honoured.

The PTNA feel it is important for all to understand that the treaties were negotiated through a bilateral process on a nation-to-nation basis. That is, sovereign Indian nations negotiated on equal standing with Queen's representatives from Great Britain and Canada.

Until now, all native peoples in Canada, Treaty, non-status and Metis, have been represented at the WCIP and International Human Rights conferences by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). The FSIN and PTNA felt that because the AFN represents so many groups, they could not address Treaty concerns as effectively as a group whose primary goal is ensuring that treaty rights be upheld.

The AFN does not recognize the PTNA as a national organization, while the PTNA has made it known that they are not represented by the AFN. In Geneva, the PTNA was represented by the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec, who have independent status as an NGO.

The PTNA has applied to the International Labour Office (ILO) who can grant them status as an NGO. This would allow them to speak at the world conference and
address the Working Committee on racism, independently of the AFN. At the Commission on Human Rights Conference in Geneva, Ahenakew continued to lobby for international support for the PTNA. His objectives are:

  1. To gain recognition and membership for the PTNA to the World Council of Indigenous Peoples;
  2. To gain status as an International Non-Governmental Organization for the PTNA;
  3. To formalize PTNA's role as representative of Treaty Indian people in Canada and to gain international recognition of their Treaty Rights; and,
  4. To further the political, cultural, economic and educational advancement of all Indigenous peoples.
This status and recognition would allow PTNA to approach the International Board of Inquiry about the Canadian Government's denial of Indian Treaty Rights. The PTNA could then also work toward international laws which would guarantee that Treaty Rights be upheld.

A press release issued by the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec included a fact sheet which outlined the resolutions made by the Sub-Commission of the United Nations Human Rights Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities. The resolutions they adopted were:

a) That a UN study be made assessing the conditions of aboriginal peoples;
b) That there be drafted a set of international standards on the protection of the rights of aboriginal peoples;
c) That a study be made on Treaties between aboriginal peoples and nations states; and,
d) That 1992 be declared "The International Year of Indigenous Rights."
At the conference in Geneva, Canada lobbied member nations of the Human Rights Commission to oppose the resolutions at the Commission discussion and vote which was to be held February 25,

The fact sheet outlined Canada's argument to oppose the resolutions and responded to them as follows:

a) Canada was not party to the development of the resolutions so why should these suddenly be introduced?

FACT: Canada has been party to the discussions leading up to the resolutions since 1983 and has made submissions to the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples of the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination; and,

b) Canada argues that the resolutions would apply to only three nations (United States, Australia and Canada) and should not therefore be adopted.

FACT: While it is true that there are major problems in Canada's failure to respect its treaties, such treaties between nation states and indigenous populations are a world wide phenomenon found in Africa,

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FSIN Uses International Forum

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MARCH 1988      p15  
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New Zealand, South America and elsewhere.

c) Canada argues that the calling for 1992 as "The International Year of Indigenous Rights" is a waste of money.

FACT: The naming of this year would bring world attention to the problems of Indigenous Peoples as Dispossessed Enclaves within nation states.

The year 1992 is 500 years after the landing of Columbus on the shores of Native America. It is fitting that positive actions be taken during that year to begin redressing the 500 years of dispossessing of the native peoples of their lands.

In Commons Debate, Liberal Critic for Aboriginal Issues, Keith Penner, questioned the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Bill McKnight on why Canadian officials in Geneva were lobbying against the resolutions. McKnight responded that he was not aware of Canadian official's activities in Geneva but suggested that "Under UN Charter all existing avenues for redress in your own country must be explored before you go to the United Nations. In several cases in Canada ... there are court actions and other avenues of redress which aboriginal people have not followed to fruition and they are now pursuing their claims in other areas of jurisdiction."

Penner then requested that the Secretary of State for External Affairs direct the Canadian officials in Geneva to support the resolutions. He said that "Canada is being obstructionist. Canada should stop its nit-picking and get behind these resolutions."

The Anglican Church of Canada and the Canadian Council of Churches also strongly supported the Canadian promotion of the resolutions.

The Department of External Affairs met with the Cree representatives in Geneva to clarify Canada's position. They said Canada supports the resolutions and did not intend to delay their adoption.

The next day, however, a statement was delivered to the sub-commission by Thomas C. Hammond of the Canadian delegation in which he said that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (the issue put forward by the Crees which would be included in the treaty study), "would not fall within the mandate of the proposed study as currently framed because it is neither a treaty nor a convention".

He said that while Canada has many arrangements with its aboriginal peoples, "which are styled as `treaties', none ... would be covered by the proposed study in its present form."

Hammond continued, that addressing issues which predate the United Nations "risks achieving little of long term value" and could undermine the support for the subcommittee's work in the area of treaty rights. He said that Canada would support, however, a modified proposal which would contribute more universally to the sub-commission's long term goals.

The proposals were adopted in the Human Rights Commission vote.

At the convention, Canadian MP, Maurice Tremblay, asked why Canadian Indians were participating in the Geneva Forum where the other people who are involved are subjected to oppression, murder, starvation and cruelty. Ahenakew responded that Canadian aboriginal peoples have no alternative but to seek support from other indigenous groups because the government has ignored their concerns, it has not moved to apply section 35 of the Constitution which deals with Treaty and has shown no intention of so doing. As well, very little has been done to settle Indian Land Claims-only two have been settled, 31 remain outstanding. At this rate, says Ahenakew, it will take another 120 years to resolve Land Entitlement.

As for oppression, one has only to look at our penal institutions where 80 percent of the population is native. Look at our reserves where 90 percent of the people are unemployed. Look at the high school drop out and suicide rates of our teenagers, the conditions of infrastructure within the Bands. When one looks at these things, one sees that Canadian aboriginal peoples are just as oppressed as the peoples from other countries who are at this forum.

At the conclusion of the conference, Ahenakew commended Chief Ted Moses from the Grand Council of the Crees for providing him with the accreditation to sit with the Working Committee and for his involvement and diplomacy demonstrated during the sessions. He also thanked Moses for introducing him to different diplomats and for Moses' dedication as the only Indian with NGO status in Canada at the Conference.