Canada, House of Commons Debates, “Alleged Failure to Promote Indian Self-Reliance,” 32nd Parl, 1st Sess (2 December 1980)

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Date: 1980-12-02
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, House of Commons Debates, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess, 1980 at 5250-5280.
Other formats: Click here to view the original document (PDF).



First, I should like to talk about self reliance in the constitutional context, in the context of’ constitutional development. Contrary to the position taken in today’s motion, what is happening on the constitutional front is not a failure but a testament to the government’s commitment to promote Indian self-reliance. Here are some examples. A decade ago, the government began to address seriously the issues of native rights by encouraging Indian participation in the development of a mutual understanding of their nature and extent. Issues underlying concepts of aboriginal and treaty rights are complex. They require extensive consultations. both with Indians and with provinces. These issues include, from the native perspective, the right to self-government, hunting. fishing and trapping rights. education and language rights. a special share n resource revenues, special provisions pertaining to family law, the administration of justice, and su on.

For the record, I want to review some highlights of the government’s efforts to encourage native participation in constitutional renewal.

In June of 1978 “A Time for Action” a basic document of the government of the day gave priority to the place of native peoples in constitutional renewal. The constitutional amendment in Bill C-60 provided an opportunity for native government dialogue on the proposed charter of rights. In October and November of 1978, native observers were invited and welcomed by the Prime Minister (Mr. Trudeau) to the first ministers’ conference.

On January 30, 1979, the Prime Minister invited national native federations to send observers to the second first ministers’ conference. On February 5 and 6 of 1979, at the conference, the Prime Minister proposed that the ministers meet with native leaders to explore their constitutional concerns. On February 12 of 1979 the Prime Minister released a list of new constitutional items, including Canada’s Native Peoples and the Constitution.”

On April 29, 1980, the Prime Minister gave a speech on the constitution at the National Indian Brotherhood ‘s all chiefs conference, and focused on the need to define aboriginal and treaty rights, native self-government, native representation in political institutions, and federal-provincial responsibilities for the provision of services to native people.

On August 1 l, 1980, the Prime Minister sent a letter to the national native organizations affirming observer status at the upcoming first ministers’ conference on the constitution. On August 26, 1980, the continuing committee of ministers on the constitution met in subcommittee with native leadership, received briefs and discussed their concerns. From September 8 to 12 of 1980 the first ministers’ conference was held at which attention was drawn by a number of premiers and the Prime Minister to native rights issues.

On October 2, 1980, a resolution was proposed for a joint address to Her Majesty that the constitution be returned to Parliament. Section 24 of the charter of rights in that document was to ensure that the proposed resolution in no way detracted from any rights of the Indian people, whether it be statute law or treaty proclamations in the jurisprudence that has developed over the years.

On October 10 and 17 of’ 1980, the Prime Minister assured the House that constitutional negotiations with native leaders would continue and that any changes directly affecting native peoples would only bc made after discussion with them. The Prime Minister stated that meetings with native leaders would continue to take place to consider how best to protect native rights.

One aspect of this chronology bas been left to the last because it is su central to the issue of Indian self reliance raised in motion. Last April, the Prime Minister announced to the National Indian Brotherhood conference that $1.2 million had been approved. $400,000 for each of the three national native organizations. to help them prepare for discussions on the constitution. On November 7, 1980, the Prime Minister, in response to questions from members, made note of this contribution and of subsequent meetings and correspondence. Also on November 7 the Prime Minister said:

The precise definition of those rights in a written constitutional document is something, I repeat, that we have assisted the Indians, native people, Metis and the Inuit to research for themselves. If they come up with some form of amendment which is acceptable to all parties in this House–and, I should say hopefully, to several of the provincial governments–we are prepared to accept amendments on this as on other things. I would merely want to point out to the hon. member that I think the simple claim of aboriginal rights, without anyone knowing exactly what it means, is not a matter which one can convincingly argue should be put in the constitution at this time. First of all, the courts would be called upon to interpret such a constitutional amendment, and I think everyone would want to know what aboriginal rights are, what is their extent, to whom they apply, and so on.

Hence the justification for the research money which was made available to enable the Indian and native associations to deal with their constitutional position. That money has been utilized, 1 think. As we noted, the committee on the constitution which is sitting right now will be hearing native organizations throughout this week. It has already heard from the Inuit organizations which made ample use of this type of funding

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arrangement and which were able, with these resources, to obtain the kind of constitutional expertise which they desired.

The latest development is the Prime Minister’s most recent letter to the national native organizations in which the following message was communicated: First, patriation will not reduce the natives’ rights in Canada; second, the government’s commitment to work with native peoples toward constitution change remains firm; third, the list of natives’ priority concerns, including aboriginal and treaty rights, internal self-government, representation in political institutions, and a guarantee of services will be addressed along with other items which would be treated as the first item on the next first ministers’ meeting in the second phase after the constitution is brought home; and finally, the pursuit of the objective to entrench native rights in the constitution will likely involve a number of meetings with first ministers, and we as the government are committed to that end.

I have dealt briefly with the question of the self-reliance of Indians in the constitutional context. I should like to deal with it now in reference to the Indian Act and self-reliance in that context. It is clear to us, when we look at the Indian Act, that the relationship between Indians and government must change.

As a result of extensive consultations last summer, in which I was personally involved to a considerable degree, it became clear, first, that there is no consensus among Indian people on this subject, and I am speaking here about the Indian Act and what should be in it to foster greater self-reliance; second, that the National Indian Brotherhood does not, at this time at least, support amendments to the Indian Act. To be a little more objective, I should explain that their preoccupation at present is with the constitution; third, it became apparent to me during these consultations that there are still, however, a significant number of Indian bands who wish to assume greater control of their affairs. Therefore, we are now considering legislation to provide the option for self-government at the band level for those bands that wish it.


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