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Bilateral Process: An Historical Relationship Brought To Life

Historically the Indian Nations have always had a special relationship with the Senior Government.

In the Royal Proclamation 1763 the Senior Government was regarded as the Crown or the Imperial Government of Great Britain. After Confederation and the implementation of the British North American Act, the Indian Nations of Canada made Treaties with the Federal Government of Canada.

This relationship has existed in various forms up to the present day.

Had the Meech Lake Accord been accepted by all the Provinces and the Federal Government, the relationship that the Indian Nations have with the Federal Government, by way of the Treaties, the British North American Act and subsequent Legislation, would have been seriously altered. The Provincial Governments would have gained in power and stature and have taken away many of the program areas from the Federal Government. This process known as "Off Loading" had already begun in clandestine manner with the Federal Government and the Provinces agreeing to "Off Load" Federal programs to the provinces.

One of the program areas under discussion were various services the Federal Government had been administering on behalf of the Indian Nations.

A year ago in the summer of 1989 Chief Roland Crowe and the then Minister of Indian Affairs Pierre Cadieux signed an agreement known as the Bilateral Agreement. In this agreement both parties agreed to undertake and strengthen the relationship that existed between the Federal Government and the Indian Nations. The agreement did not call for Provincial participation but rather would deal in matters specifically pertaining to the Federal Government and the Indian Nations.

The Bilateral Process as laid down in the agreement calls for joint policy development, legislative development by both Governments and technical support with both Governments.

The Process begins and the Process ends with the political leadership of the Treaty Indian Nations. The Chiefs meeting in Assembly issue instructions for the development of a full and comprehensive Treaty Indian position on a specific topic. These instructions are issued to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations which initiates the items for policy development.

The policy development may be done by a permanently established secretariat working within the Bilateral Process or by specialists or teams of expertise assembled to develop policy in a specific area.

The completed policy is then taken back to the Indian Governments and delivered in draft form for political ratification.

When the policy has been ratified to the general agreement of all the Treaty Indian Nations it is then developed by the secretariat into draft legislation.

This draft legislation is returned to the separate Indian Nations for their ratification.

The Indian Nations also maintain their right to opt out of the ratification of any particular draft legislation.

After the draft legislation and the policy has been approved by the separate Indian Nations the First Nations in Assembly then collectively legislate it into Indian law. Each piece of legislation then becomes an official Treaty Indian Statute.

Upon ratification or enactment of the First Nations Legislation a Federal/Indian study and review process will be undertaken. The purpose of this process is to determine what action the Federal Government will initiate in response to the Indian Legislation.

The Federal Government may respond to two ways. First a Federal Policy coupled with program development may be implemented in response to legislation or the Federal Government may go forward with its own complimentary legislative action.

Once the Federal Government has decided upon its action plan a Bilateral group consisting of a committee of the Federal Cabinet and the Treaty Indian negotiating team will be struck.

These joint discussions are required for legislative initiative or policy action. Political instructions are to be given from implementation. The Bilateral Process sets up a system whereby the needs of the Treaty Indian Nations can receive a fair and proper response from both Indian and Federal Governments. The relationship is a historical one and to the governing principles of the process are tied to the Treaties.

Both governments now have a forum to constructively deal with the pressing issues that face Indian people.

Bilateral Process Chart