THUNDER BAY – The honour of the Crown is at stake. That is the message from over 600 delegates from Treaty territories across the land attended the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Treaty Forum, March 26-27, at Whitecap Dakota First Nation, Saskatchewan. The Forum provided the opportunity to share experiences, ideas and visions for advancing the Treaty relationship.
The honour of the Crown is at stake
“Treaty regions have been signalling for far too long the need for high-level discussions on Treaty implementation. They want to see the establishment of a process for them to sit down with their Treaty partner, the Crown in right of Canada, to implement the Treaties according to their true spirit and intent, as the Indigenous Nations understand them,” said AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “The work needs to be shared with Treaty rights holders at the community level engaging all of our citizens. Treaty regions will determine for themselves the path and process required for Treaty Implementation.”
First Nations are looking for a nation-to-nation relationship where both sides offer respect for each other.
Over the past few months, First Nations have witnessed a ground swell in a collective appeal for full respect for Treaty, inherent and Aboriginal rights by the Government of Canada. The urgent need remains for Canada to demonstrate genuine respect and long-term commitment, initiated by meetings between First Nations and the Prime Minister and the Governor General on January 11, 2013.
“We are taking the Prime Minister at his word of the January 11th meeting when he committed to a high level mechanism for Treaty implementation. Such a mechanism would examine the creation of a senior Cabinet Committee for Treaty Implementation, as well as, new institutions of the Crown with proper authority and mandate for Treaty implementation, such as a Treaty Commissioner and a new Crown-First Nations department,” said AFN Saskatchewan Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde, who holds the Treaty portfolio. “It would also look at the existing structures within the Government of Canada. Our treaties are with the Crown, not with one individual minister and Canada’s structures and processes have to respect this. Revenue sharing and self-determination are key issues as they are tied to economic independence in keeping with Indigenous values,” said Regional Chief Bellegarde.
A smaller task force is needed to flesh out a Treaty implementation and enforcement process that will carry out the work going forward. Chiefs in attendance were again assured that this process will be carried forward by the Treaty leaders themselves, as the AFN is not a Treaty Rights holder.
Among the many presentations by First Nations leaders and grassroots citizens, common messages expressed throughout the Forum included the following:
- Treaties were not meant to make First Nations poor in our own homelands. Signatories who entered into Treaties on behalf of their people agreed to share the land.
- The Treaty relationship is sacred. First Nations entered into treaties with the Crown through ceremonies while also entering into a covenant with the Creator.
- The honour of the Crown is at stake. This work is being undertaken while countless amendments and laws are being adopted that undermine Indigenous peoples’ human rights, including Treaty rights. These legislative measures were developed with little or no consultation with First Nations peoples and without our consent.
- Treaty territories are in diverse situations. While some Treaty territories are ready to engage with the Crown, others require adequate resourcing and time to organize their governance and positions.
- Our treaties are international. As such, ongoing work with the various United Nations bodies and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is needed.
- A strategy to seek an audience with the Her Royal Majesty, the Queen of England in this the 250th anniversary year of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 is needed.
The AFN was given clear direction to continue to support each of the Treaty regions as they drive the process towards Treaty implementation. We will continue to facilitate the necessary dialogue as well as advocate for the capacity needs of each Treaty region, as directed by the Treaty Nations.