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“Fsin Must Return To Fundamentals” - Indian Government Commission

Government pressures and conflicting agendas have taken the FSIN off the course of fundamental issues, according to a paper tabled by the Indian Government Commission at the recent Chiefs Legislative Assembly.

The document entitled, "The State of the Indian Nations, Indian Rights ... Indian Treaties" was prepared to provoke thought and discussion on the current condition of the bands, leadership roles and the organization and institutions.

The report states that while the fundamental purpose of the FSIN is to protect the treaties, the emphasis on treaties appears to be diminishing.

"Reference to Treaties or Treaty Rights rarely enter, anymore, into positions or resolutions that are adopted by the Chiefs in Assembly or are advanced by the executive council or the district councils.

Treaties and Treaty Rights are poorly understood by many of the Indian leaders -there is an uncertainty as to how to argue for what the spirit and intent of an individual treaty right really is and to press the Canadian Governments and the Canadian people to recognize the Indian position and honor Treaty obligations."

"There are few unified positions in the organization - possibly because a variety of agendas have been introduced or imposed into the organization which do not advance treaty rights as the main focus and, in fact, diminish treaties either by ignoring them or compromising them.

The sincerity of the Indian leadership is not in question - what is called into question is the failure to place treaties and Indian political rights at the heart of all issues, discussions and positions and instead to reduce the role of the Federation to that of begging for favorable considerations from federal and provincial government program administrators."

"The federal and provincial governments, especially the current administrations, are determined to convince Indian leaders and the Canadian public that the treaties do not exist - either in policy nor in law.

"The Position of the Chief and Council has been clearly diminished both by non- Indian governments and by internal differences and in- fighting."

Among the Indian leadership there is an apparent lack of understanding of individual treaty rights or the ability to itemize them and persuasively advocate for them - hence, the ground is made fertile for the opponents (federal and provincial) to challenge specific rights, to claim they are not clearly defined, or to call upon the Indian leadership to "prove" a right exists by making reference to the specific articles of treaty instead of the Spirit and intent of the agreement which was reached during negotiations."

The federal government has abandoned its fiduciary trust to Indian and treaty rights and instead is implementing policies to extinguish the treaties and treaty rights.

"Treaties are referred to as 'quasi-legal' documents or social obligations which are not binding on government but are simply provided by a beneficent government policy.

Federal policy represents the treaties as an unnecessary 'umbilical cord' which must be cut to eliminate the drain on the federal treasury."

"There is not absolute support to any of the individual treaty rights and in particular, hunting, fishing and trapping rights will soon be extinguished through a system of land privatization and licensing/regulating access to these resources."

Perhaps the most serious breach of treaty has come in the area of treaty land entitlement. The federal government originally had agreed to over a million acres of land entitlement to Saskatchewan bands based on the land population as of December 31, 1976.

However, the federal policy now is to determine land entitlement as of the date of first survey which reduces the land quantum to a little over 100,000 acres.

The report states, "federal and provincial policies towards Indian lands and land entitlement are consistent and clearly described in the most recent policy documents. These include:

“Fsin Must Return To Fundamentals” - Indian Government Commission

  1. no new reserves and not one acre of land transferred to reserve status under the 1976 formula;
  2. negotiation of compromise settlements with individual bands willing to break the 1976 formula and in fact, the treaties;
  3. extensive use of the courts;
  4. professional publicity campaign to non-Indians to describe Indian land 'interests' as a threat to land owners and contrary to national interest; and,
  5. use of individual Indian leaders and officials to persuade Indian leadership to lower expectations and accept compromises."

"The Organizational structure of the FSIN is seriously flawed...and contributes to reducing the effectiveness, authority and ability of the executive council."

"Some bands have now compromised the entitlement process by accepting 'date of first survey' settlement arrangements."

The report states that the roles of the Indian leadership is under attack and strain at all levels including chiefs and councils, the district representatives and the executive.

"The position of the chief and council has been clearly diminished both by non-Indian governments and by internal differences and infighting. Many chiefs and councils are 'locked in' to a program and administration agenda wherein there is neither a political will nor a place for advancing Indian government, Indian treaty rights or the Indian political agenda."

"There is a fear that by taking Treaty rights positions which are unpopular with the non-Indian governments, it will immediately bring down retaliation and punishment, either personal or on the band. Individual chiefs and councils who are insisting on standing on the Indian rights principals and the Indian political agenda are subjected to constant abuse and challenges to the stands they take.

The results are often personal 'burn out' or a withdrawal from leadership in frustration."

"The effectiveness of the executive council both in terms of ability to act and to show results is seriously compromised by many factors.

There are very few mandates or directions given by the legislative assembly based on treaties. They are mostly in the areas of program and administrative matters. Attempts by individual executive members to exert leadership on fundamental matters of treaty rights (land, economic rights, education, etc.) are immediately compromised by those fearful of 'rocking the boat', those who are comfortable in their current positions or climate, or those who for often undefined reasons, are in opposition to the executive council on a purely personal basis."

Boards and Commissions have become comfortable 'nests' made up of appointments based on...political appointments."

"The executive council, who are supposed to act as a unified 'cabinet' often have difficulty presenting a united front because of lack of clarity of position or direction to take, a result of unclear mandates from the legislative assembly and no clear action plan.

Executive council members may be reluctant to provide visionary leadership for fear of being accused of ignoring 'grass roots issues'. Although this fear (and accompanying accusations) is very realistic, it should not be a hindrance to individual and independent initiative by the executive, if it can be clearly defended on the basis of treaty rights, nothing should be more 'grass roots' than the treaty rights.

The organizational structure of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations is seriously flawed in many ways and this contributes to reducing the effectiveness, authority and ability to act of the executive council."

"The district representatives (and assistants) are sitting as full voting members of the executive council and on boards and commissions where the nature of their position often dictates that they will be forced to place local concerns and program/administrative matters ahead of the provincial and national mandates and principals of the FSIN."

"The federal government in particular, the department of Indian and Northern Affairs, has placed most of the resources in the hands of the district tribal agency councils. In controlling these resources, district personnel are in position to use district council funds and programs to advance local initiatives which often have little to do with the essence of the FSIN as a political body or to barter for influence and support from other district personnel and/or executive council members in ways which totally ignore the mandates and the principles upon which the FSIN as a whole is supposed to represent."

"It is quite possible, common and does in fact occur, that district personnel who are supposed to be 'ex-

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“Fsin Must Return To Fundamentals” - Indian Government Commission

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officio' at executive council meetings, boards and commissions, will in fact participate in the voting and can influence and control decision-making. District, tribal and agency councils were 'jumped on' immediately by the federal government as the ideal vehicle to facilitate the dismantling of the central bodies and institutions of the Federation.

District councils have developed 'territorial' positions and policies which often prevent unified decisions on fundamental Federation positions and prevent the executive council from securing mandates to take the offense on political issues affecting treaties.

District, tribal and agency councils have become administrative arms of the department of Indian and Northern Affairs. None are required to table political agendas to the Federation General Assembly or to demonstrate how the district is supporting the advancement of treaties and treaty rights protection."

"The resources required to coordinate an effective executive council body are being systematically drained and redirected to the district council. The executive members and the required support officials are not able to afford and display the dignity, powers and authorities of their office required to carry out successful face to face political negotiations with non-Indian government leaders."

"Boards and commissions have become comfortable 'nests' made up not of appointments based on professional qualifications, experience and demonstrated leadership in the mandates that the Institution has to carry out, but by political appointments.

The danger resident in political appointments is, that the boards and commissions can exercise a considerable degree of independence and distance from the executive council and the legislative assembly without being required to account to the Indian leadership or citizens but only to the funding agencies. There are no new initiatives being developed.

Many boards are actively assisting to promote and implement federal guidelines and policies. Many board members are forced into a heavy reliance on the income provided by sitting on board or commission meetings. It is draining a considerable amount of political leadership from the bands and the Federation at a time when that leadership is both overworked and spread far too thin."

The report is highly critical of the emphasis on administrative matters of the political leadership. The commission states that the elected leaders should direct the political agenda and the professional manager should manage.

"It is evident that the majority of the daily agendas and meetings of the Federation at all levels is overwhelmingly administrative.

A quick way to determine the accuracy of this statement is to examine the written agendas of every meeting at the executive, district, and band level and the boards and commission involving the Indian political leaders and pick out those items which deal with program and administration or discussions with non-Indian government officials compared to those items which deal with treaty rights, Indian government policy, and meetings with non-Indian governmental political leaders.

Formal meetings with non-political representatives of federal, provincial and municipal departments and agencies by elected Indian leaders on a regular basis, places the Indian leadership in the same category in the eyes of the public and the government officials, as nothing more than civil servants themselves."

Commission members were quick to point out that the paper was a discussion document designed to make people think and return the political agenda to the treaties and other fundamental principles.