An Indigenous recognition of rights framework Bill proposed by the Liberal government is meeting opposition from First Nations leaders, writes Doug Cuthand

REGINA,Sk: April 26, 2016 — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a news conference at the Treaty Four Governance Centre in Fort Qu’Appelle Saskatchewan Tuesday April 26, 2016after meeting with the leaders of the File Hills Tribal Council earlier in the day. BRYAN SCHLOSSER BRYAN SCHLOSSER / Regina Leader-Post

Indigenous recognition of the rights framework bill proposed by the Liberal government is meeting increasing opposition from First Nations leaders.

On Feb. 14, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government would table a bill recognizing Indigenous rights before Christmas and it would be passed before the election in the fall of 2019.

Seven months into the process, little has been done to achieve an agreement between the First Nations and the federal government.

When Section 35 was included in the Canadian constitution, it concluded that Aboriginal and treaty rights were “recognized and confirmed.”

The actual rights were never listed or defined. The First Nations leaders felt they didn’t have to be defined. They existed in the numerous treaties that were signed between the First Nations and the Crown. We regarded Section 35 as a full box, and what had to be done was implementation. The government, on the other hand, felt Section 35 was an empty box and our rights had to be defined.

Three First Ministers conferences were called to define our rights, but that process ended in failure. Federal and provincial politicians have been content to ignore our rights and kick the can down the road for some future government to worry about.

Now the First Nations are armed with some very important Supreme Court decisions and can bring national projects like pipelines to a screeching halt. When it comes to defining our rights, we are coming to the negotiating table from a position of strength.

As Pogo said, most people don’t read the writing on the wall until their backs are up against it. The Liberal government has now determined that it is time to provide legislation that defines treaty and Aboriginal rights.

Right away, their assumptions are problematic. First Nations regard Aboriginal rights as rights that we never gave up by signing treaty or in any other process. They are rights that we kept for ourselves. We maintain the right to govern ourselves, speak our languages and practise our culture and religion.

When we signed treaties, the government representatives accepted our chiefs as our leaders and they signed on our behalf. That is recognition from the federal government that we had our own form of government and legitimate leaders.

In spite of colonial repression and residential schools, our rights remain intact to this day. The churches and Indian agents only assumed that we had no Aboriginal rights. No other government has the right to interfere; they can only acknowledge our rights that come from the Creator.

Defining our Aboriginal rights is an easy process in this proposed legislation. All the government has to do is recognize our right to govern ourselves and maintain our languages and practise our culture and religion. We have more than 50 language groups and numerous nations, and each one has the right to conduct their affairs in a manner that suits them.

The second part of defining treaty rights must be broad and open-ended.

The federal and provincial governments must recognize that our treaties are living documents. What was promised in 1876 does not apply today because of advances in technology and social evolution.

Regarding education, for example, the federal government has a responsibility under treaty to provide the financial resources to teach us “the cunning of the Whiteman” as stated by Lieutenant-governor Alexander Morris during the negotiations for Treaty Four. Our people, on the other hand, maintain the right to run our own institutions and develop or adopt curriculum that suits our needs.

We must keep in mind that the treaties have two sides, one for Canada and one for the First Nations. Canada and the provinces have gone far beyond the original agreement that the treaties were negotiated for settlement. Today we have cities, manufacturing, oil and gas, mining, power generation and so on that were not mentioned in the treaties because the potential was not known at the time.

Canada and Canadians benefitted immeasurably from the treaties. The country went on to become one of the great modern democracies and a member of the G7. Our people, on the other hand, were left behind.

The rights recognition framework must allow us room to grow and be driven by the First Nations; otherwise it will just be one more failed initiative.
_section bb_built=”1″]

[/et_pb_section]