My Treaty Walk today was a little more intense than usual: heavy back pack, time crunch. Makes me think of statesmen and women, spokespeople, elders, like Ovide Mercredi, who have been treaty walking for decades, half centuries and beyond. Sure puts my twenty-three minutes into perspective.
Current State of Treaty Implementation in Canada
Ovide Mercredi: Spokesperson, Treaties 1-11
We have a history of being fighters. Our people and organizations have made great progress in education, in economic development, in child welfare and in health care. Treaty Land Entitlement and specific claim settlements have enabled us to develop lands and build businesses, so that economic development is a reality for many First Nations. We fought for these rights and have benefited from them.
We have to become historians to fully understand and support our political movement and to see where it has been, where it is now and where it has to go in the future. We are making progress thanks to political organizations that have changed the thinking of bureaucracy and politicians but we have not completed the journey.
Our reserves are far too small and part of the fight in the future is to expand our land base. To make sure the land base will sustain the population 100 years, 200 years from now in a self-reliant, independent way. We’re not going to get there by feeling sorry for ourselves, but by rising up as we did in the past, with conviction and belief in our rights of self-determination and Treaty. As we get older we get wiser and kinder and that kindness filters back to our communities, so that our citizens realize that our Leaders are trying their best to uplift people. Hopefully, the people will stand behind strong and honest Leaders.
We still have miles to go in implementing Treaties and self-determination. Sol is right when he said we now have the resources we didn’t have 30 years ago. We have enough lawyers to create our own judicial systems like the Navajo have, under their own authority and sovereignty.
There is nothing stopping us but our own fear. What are we afraid of? We are afraid of their power. We are afraid they will use their power to suppress us even more. That is the impact of colonialism. When Chief Fox says we have to decolonize, he is absolutely right. We have to decolonize our fear. We also have to trust each other. We have to be willing to say, “I will give you this duty and responsibility and I trust you will do the right thing, particularly when it comes to Treaty implementation and observance across the country.”
Prime Minister Harper said we will explore and find ways to implement Treaties. We don’t fully understand what he meant but it’s up to us to find out. A window is opening and it’s up to us to make it wide open and we’re not going to get there if we cannot work together in unity of purpose. If we look for perfection we might as well die and go to heaven because that’s the only place we’ll find perfection. So let’s not try to be perfect. We will make mistakes and we have made many mistakes but that shouldn’t work to our disadvantage. When a person falls we lift them up. When a person makes a mistake, we try to correct them. We do not destroy humanity but we find ways to uplift it.
The Treaty 1 to 11 Movement is not an organization it’s just a movement, it has no money. No one gets paid for the work that is done. This is a movement for the Leaders, Chiefs, Elders, young people, women and non-aboriginal people to understand what the Treaties mean and also how we can advance Treaty rights for our people and the communities so Treaty rights actually mean something – it’s not just a word – so the Treaty right to education means there’s money coming to the schools.
The Treaty right to livelihood has to mean something. It can’t mean social assistance or welfare, that’s not livelihood, but using the wealth of the lands and resources to survive as peoples and Nations. We have a right to our reserved lands and the right to the use of our traditional territories.
If you’re looking for something to do as Chiefs for next 365 days, try this – get your reserved lands into your title. It’s now under federal Crown title. We don’t own anything. We don’t even have title to the reserved land, never mind having authority or jurisdiction in our territories. Chiefs have no time, and I know this to be a fact, to follow all these issues because of the demands people place on us in housing, unemployment, drug abuse problems and other areas. These are the things that occupy us as Chiefs.
So what we have to do, as Chiefs, is to be brave enough to delegate responsibility and duty, not power, to FSIN, a Tribal Council, Treaty 1 to 11, and say to them, “For next 365 days we want you to figure out a way to bring our reserves under our title as Nations, not under federal title.” If we don’t bring that land under Cree, Dene or Ojibway title, we are vulnerable to federal legislation which may place reserves under fee simple and individual ownership. The only way we can protect ourselves from that kind of assimilation is for the land to remain under our sovereignty.
No one community alone is going to be able to do it on their own. No one community will be able to reform the education system. We might be able to have local control but we will not be able to make the sweeping changes necessary to reflect our culture, language and continuation of our Nationhood. We are going to need each other, and so we must find a way to work together.
We may be opposed to some forms of regional or national institutions, but we need these institutions to develop a sustainable, powerful system that meets our needs. I like APECT [Action Plan for Education in the Context of Treaty] but to make it happen, you need to work together. You don’t need to transfer power to FSIN to do that. You need to transfer responsibility to implement the programming and policy. You retain the power. You’re just giving them the duty to do it, knowing that they can’t alter the Treaty right to education.
The FSIN has been brilliant in terms of using its people and in building institutions. There is no other First Nation organization as advanced as you are in building institutions of education. You can make leaps and bounds in economic development as long as you’re not afraid of institutional-building. I have always been envious of the unity you have in this province with one political body. Division doesn’t accelerate change, it works against change.
Our people are very mobile and are always moving. They are not purely reserve-based or urban-based. This flexibility means that our work in the different regions cannot be seen as being separate and apart, but must be seen as work being done on behalf of all our people.
We should focus on law-making. Examine what the Navajo did in law-making and in building institutions such as Tribal Courts and Family Courts. If each First Nation makes a law on child protection, then we may have many different laws. It would be better if FSIN makes an enabling law on child protection and each First Nation takes it back to their community and makes it their law. A Chiefs Assembly brings law forward and passes it, but it doesn’t take effect until adopted by the community.
The next Treaty 1 to 11 Gathering is September 17-21 in Brandon, Manitoba, hosted by Keeseekoowenin. Three Tribal Councils in Alberta pledged $25,000 each and Chief Fox and his Council added $10,000 to help offset the costs of the gathering. Enoch is discussing the possibility of contributing some resources, as well.
There is a recommendation to create an independent mechanism, somewhat like New Zealand’s Waitangi Treaty Tribunal, for interpreting Treaty so when we disagree on the meaning of Treaty we don’t have to go to their court. We should delegate Sharon Venne, Rodney Soonias, Leroy Littlebear and others to develop options for an independent Treaty Tribunal.
We must maintain the nation-to-nation Treaty relationship as set out in the Royal Proclamation, which is going to be 250 years old in 2013. We have an opportunity to make the 2013 Treaty 1 to 11 Gathering the biggest Treaty event in North America since the settler state was created. We should try to involve a visit from the British monarch. Prince Charles coming to Canada this year and will stop in Ontario and Saskatchewan. We should have an event and take these opportunities to demonstrate our nationhood to another head of state. I’m going to work with our National Chief to make sure Treaty 1 to 11 has an opportunity to make a presentation to Prince Charles.
I have a lot of respect for the Chiefs of our country. I know how hard it is to serve as Chief. We have our political institutions. If we are not happy with how they’re working or not working, it is up to us to change it. As Leaders, we also have to be mindful that we have to be honest about disagreements and look for resolutions. We just can’t be mad for the sake of being mad. We also need to stand up for the Leaders that we have. Morley is the Interim Chief of the FSIN, so I back him. I’m not from here but I back him, just as I back the Chief from my community.
No one can break the Treaty even if they try. The courts have tried but they have not been able to break the Treaty. The Treaty is strong and it will always be there; no Indian will break the Treaty. As we go forward on Treaty implementation, do not be afraid that someone is going to jeopardize them. The Treaty 1 to 11 Movement is about ceremony, it’s not about politics, it is about ceremony and about understanding the Treaty; and it’s about building power to make sure the Crown ultimately fulfills the Treaty promises that are outstanding and owing to our people – like the Treaty right to a livelihood, to natural resources, our sovereignty over our traditional lands, water; the Treaty right for us to decide on measures of conservation and habitat protection for the animals, and so on. These are all Treaty rights, not just the right to hunt, fish and trap. Our Treaties are about culture, our society, the preservation of our way of life, our survival as nations; ultimately, Treaties are about freedom.
page 30-32, excerpt from
Chiefs' Forum on Treaty Implementation
Dakota Dunes Casino and Conference Center
March 29 & 30, 2012
shared as public document with permission from
Dan Bellegarde, Executive Director, Treaty Governance Office
CD of Chiefs' Forum on treaty Implementation available for $5.00
or free transcript is available
by contacting Dan Bellegarde at Dan.Bellegarde@fsin.com