Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Henry Lewis, Director, Treaty Governance, Onion Lake Cree Nation

Fell asleep last night listening to the election race south of the border. When I woke up, Obama had won. Earlier in the day, while unloading the dishwasher, I'd heard Bernie Shepherd, former chief of White Bear First Nation being interviewed about an online casino they'd opened today, without "government" permission.

CBC quotes Donna Harpauer, that White Bear, and specifically Shepherd, are acting without any "permission from any level of government."

"The First Perspective" quotes Shepherd saying, "I'm establishing our jurisdiction. We have inherent rights - treaty rights and constitutional rights. In our minds, this is legal."

I'm glad Obama won. Not that he's perfect, but he is a voice of possibilities and hope. I remember studying his inaugural speech with my students in Fort Qu'Appelle, and many of the First Nations kids were inspired by Obama being the first black president. Some wondered when Canada would have its first First Nations prime minister.

I'm thankful that I've been listening to and reading the speeches from the Chiefs' Forum on Treaty Implementation. Like this message from Henry Lewis of Onion Lake First Nation. Helps me understand what's going on in the news.

-- Sheena
Henry Lewis:  Director, Treaty Governance, Onion Lake Cree Nation

Our Chief, Wallace Fox, could not make it today but he asked me to tell you that he is very supportive of this movement and this Forum.

The words spirit and intent are sometimes used too loosely.  Spirit and intent means a lot to the grandfathers that came to assist in guiding the people that signed Treaties on our behalf.  I’m a pipe carrier and Sundance Lodge Keeper.  I believe I have the right to say this.

I don’t blame Leadership but at the same time there are many empty places here today.  This is very saddening.  I believe that the government is very instrumental in suppressing our Chiefs.  If they start to fight for their rights the government will punish them by withholding funds and programs.

I’m the Director of Treaty Governance in Onion Lake Cree Nation and I work with the Elders Advisory Council.  We come from the point of view of self-determination and Treaty not from self-government.  People interpret self-determination differently from self-government.  Someone said we didn’t have resource revenue 30 years ago.  Now we have oil and gas revenue coming in and that means we are able to do things we couldn’t do before.  The process that has started in Onion Lake to implement the Inherent and Treaty rights will just go ahead.  I got blessing from Chief Fox to say we are going to move forward and you’re all welcome on board, to join us if you want.  We’ll keep that door open for you.

We have been establishing our own institutions within our Nation, much like Sol said yesterday.  We have developed our own Constitution, which was ratified in 2005, and we are moving forward to assert jurisdiction based on that Constitution.  We continue to move forward on building our institutions in the various sectors and moving forward toward full Treaty implementation.

We started a process of law development in our community.  It is a long process with many consultation meetings with membership, but we want to do it right with the support of our people.  We will have a system in place to fall back on whenever they decide to take the Indian Act back because our framework is there already.

We passed our own election law but the government is sitting on it while they develop one for everyone to use.  But it is not our law.  There is another election coming up this June and they said we have to use section 74 of the Indian Act.  They’re afraid to let us go.  It’s important we support each other in unity to go after the government.

There is a Treaty 6 Elders movement and we’ve had about 5 or 6 sessions in different communities.  Some of these people are strong Treaty minded Elders and are here before us; others are not here with us.  Our Elders say we’ve done enough talking and that now is the time for action.  We’re moving forward with that mandate.  I do believe we are at a crossroads and we need to do something now.  I do believe that within my heart that the road we are on is the right process.

We finally got the blessing to go ahead and build a Treaty 6 Embassy or Government House.  It will be the centre of governance and Treaty implementation.  There are 50 First Nations within Treaty 6 territory and when we designed the building, we considered all 50.  It will be a big building of 23,000 square feet.

We will be developing our own laws in this Government House.  We can be developing our own election law as one template that all Treaty 6 First Nations can use.  This is one example of what can be done out of this Governance House.  It will be where we plan to go through to the UN level and it will help to build the unity to fight for our rights. Treaty 4 has their office and each Treaty area needs to do that.

There are other things happening as we continue to promote unity in Treaty 6.  I tabled a Declaration on unity among Treaty 6 Leadership, but to keep in mind that when you sign the declaration that it doesn’t come with financial obligation.  The point is getting political support. 

I want to tell you about some upcoming meetings that some of you might like to attend:

·         May 6-7-8      Fort Pitt Treaty 1-11 Spiritual Gathering

·         May 14-17     Little Pine hosting Elders and Chiefs meeting

·         June 4-7        Onion Lake will sponsor and host a meeting

·         Aug 6-9          Medicine Chest Gathering at Samson Cree Nation, Treaty Governance House

·         Aug 21           Fort Edmonton 135 year Commemoration

·         Aug 22-23     Fort Carlton, 136 year Commemoration hosted by AJ every year

·         Sept 8-9         Fort Pitt, 136 year Commemoration

·         Sept 10-11    Sounding Lake Gathering

·         Sept 17          Treaty 1-11 hosted by Manitoba Treaty 2 territory

The meeting that I’m hosting in Fort Pitt has a very spiritual significance.  I’m going to be inviting pipe carriers to our sacred Treaty Ground.  When they negotiated Treaties they reverted to spiritual guidance and this is what we need to do.  That’s the power base and foundation of our existence.  We are going back to our ceremonies and in doing that there’s no way we’re doing anything wrong.

The OTC was directed to do a report on Treaty implementation.  When OTC presented their final report, a Task Force was developed to review the 26 recommendations.  The Task Force came out with 10 Treaty principles and I would like to know what happened to these 10 Treaty principles.  I do believe those are the 10 principles the OTC should be working on.  Those 10 principles reflect on our Governance House.  We need FSIN to establish a relationship with Treaty 6.  The only thing we are asking is to respect the fact that when it comes to Treaty the authority belongs to the Chiefs.  When the new Treaty Commissioner is chosen, these 10 Treaty principles should be revisited as a starting point.  That is the direction that we give to the FSIN.

I would like to acknowledge Sharon Venne because she works for us.  I pay her through my department so that we can do work at UN level.  When they had the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination convention in Geneva, Sharon left one week early to make sure meetings were in place when our Chief got there.

I hope I’m able to share some encouragement to all who are here.  Kiyām, let’s not get discouraged.  We persevered for 136 years and we’re still here.  We’re very patient, too patient sometimes. 
page 48-50 , 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

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