Federal-Provincial Meeting of Ministers on Aboriginal Constitutional Matters, Letter to the Rt. Hon. Pierre E. Trudeau […] re Background of I.C.N.I. Constitutional Positions […] (31 January-1 February 1983)

Document Information

Date: 1983-01-31
By: Inuit Committee
Citation: Federal-Provincial Meeting of Ministers on Aboriginal Constitutional Matters, Letter to the Rt. Hon. Pierre E. Trudeau, P.C., M.P., Prime Minister of Canada re Background on I.C.N.I. Constitutional Positions to be discussed at First Ministers’ Conference on Aboriginal Issues, Doc 830-120/005 (Ottawa: 31 January-1 February 1983).
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DOCUMENT: 830-120/005


Letter to the Rt. Hon. Pierre E. Trudeau, P.C.
M.P., Prime Minister of Canada re Background
of I.C.N.I. Constitutional Positions to be
discussed at First Ministers Conference on
Aboriginal Issues, March 1983

Inuit Committee on
National Issues

January 31 –
Feburary 1, 1983

January 25, 1983.

The Rt. Hon. Pierre E. Trudeau, P.C., M.P,
Prime Minister of Canada,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, Ontario.
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:


On behalf of the Inuit Committee on National Issues (I.C.N.I.) we
would like to take this opportunity to express our views on the
Constitutional process presently underway and to provide you with
some background on the positions we will be putting forward at
the ministerial meeting planned for the end of this month.

As you are no doubt aware I.C.N.I. has participated fully in the
preparatory process leading up to the S. 37 First Ministers
Conference. While we feel the meetings at the level of officials
have been constructive and have resulted in a better under-
standing on our political, social and economic rights, we have
been disappointed by the inability of government delegations to
articulate their viewpoints on positions on almost all the issues
being discussed. We would point out that we understand the
hesitancy of officials to reveal government strategy or
positions, but we are sure you can understand our disappointment.
It is for this reason that I.C.N.I. proposed that the process
move to the next level and we are pleased that other delegations
have agreed that the January 31st, February lst meeting will be
one of Ministers.

At this juncture we would like to point out that Inuit view this
process as a political negotiation…a negotiation in the sense
that we are seeking to take positive steps towards resolving the
question of what role the aboriginal peoples should play within
the Canadian Confederation.

As you are well aware the process for the federation of Canada
into the dominion that we know today, began over 100 years ago.
Many of the principles established then, now form the basis for
Canada’s patriated Constitution. Those principles were based on
European laws and traditions and accordinqly the political,
social and economic systems that have evolved in Canada have been
essentially European inspired.

However, Inuit did not become aware of the presence of the
European peoples and their ways until relatively recently. Until
as late as the 1950’s many of our people were still living in
isolated camps as semi-nomads with political, economic, and
social systems of our own, systems which were very much centred
on a rugged existence dependent on the climate, our lands and
waters and the wildlife and other resources contained in our

We were therefore never involved or consulted when Canada as we
now know it was formed. Even if our existence had been fully
knowito the Fathers oE Confederation at that time, we were not
familiar with the European ways and would not have been able to
understand the proceedinqs which resulted in the establishment of
the Dominion of Canada. Our people, our ways and our land have
slowly become known to the settler Europeans as you and your ways
have become more familiar to us. Happily our relationships with
the governments that have been built in Canada have been for the
most part cordial if not friendly.

It must be remembered though that Inuit still reqard the northern
part of this country as our homeland. We never fought in any
wars against the European settlers and never siqned any treaties
with them relinquishinq sovereignty or title over our lands.
When the Oallunaat (white man) began appearinq on our land we
shared our resources with them, as we had always done amongst
ourselves. Years later we learned that our homeland was
considered to be part of Canada. It is not that we are ashamed
to be know as “kanaatamiut” or Canadians, we only seek the means
to achieve, with dignity, a place in the Canadian Confederation
which recognizes our distinct political, economic and cultural
rights as is befitting of our long time occupancy of the northern
part of this country.

Political and historical tradition in Canada has recognized two
founding peoples — the French and the English. You can well
imagine that we find this somewhat offensive, considering the
fact that we have inhabited this land for many thousands of
years. Inuit, together with other aboriginal peoples form a
distinct part of the Canadian “mosaic”. We feel then that this
opportunity we now have before us — A First Ministers Conference
to deal with the concerns of the aboriginal peoples — should
result in the recognition of the fundamental rights of our

We have viewed our work on the Constitution (which began in the
mid-1970’s) within the framework of three general principles. We
are seeking amendments which will guarantee Constitutional
protection for the following principles:

(1) the collective recognition of the aboriginal
peoples as distinct peoples in Canada due to our
occupation of our lands since time immemorial,
including the protection of our cultures, histories and
lifestyles; and flowing from this principle:

(2) the recoqnition of our political riqhts to
self-governing institutions (structures) of various
kinds within the Canadian Confederation; and

(3) the recognition of our economic rights to our lands and
waters, their resources and their benefits, as a base
for self-efficiency and the development of native
communities and families, including the protection of
our traditional livelihoods.

We have based the legal drafting of Constitutional provisions on
these principles. I.C.N.I. views its proposals for amendments to
the Constitution as being necessarily two-staged. The First
stage will seek amendments to Part II of the Constitution Act,
1982, “Rights of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada”, which
provisions should be immediately enforceable. In this phase, we
propose that the present Section 35 be expanded to include a
non-limitative definition of aboriginal rights, which will
include rights in and to land and sea-ice, cultural and
linguistic rights, and the recognition of our customs and
traditions. we view these rights as a cornerstone to building a
more elaborate set of rights, which can only be arrived through
negotiation, during the second stage.

We realize that for two reasons it is necessary to negotiate some
rights: first, we know it will be impossible to deal with the
full range of issues of utmost concern to the aboriginal peoples
at one First Ministers Conference; and second, some aboriginal
rights necessarily apply differently to the various aboriginal
nations, tribes, bands and/or communities, and are best
negotiated by these various groups individually. We therefore
propose a negotiation process with the governments and aboriginal
parties concerned in each area, to deal with a wider range of matters
concerning aboriginal peoples, such as economic development and
self-government. The Constitution must embody a commitment to this
process, as well as provide that all agreements reached be granted
constitutional protection.

Additional clauses in our proposal will seek to clarify the present
wording of Section 35; an enforcement provision and interpretation
sections modelled after Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982 are also
included, to supply the necessary legal force to the proposed

I.C.N.I. considers this proposal as a necessary beginning to redefine
the nature of the relationship between Canada’s aboriginal peoples and
its public institutions.

Our draft also contains modifications to the amending formula: we
propose that Section 42, regarding the extension of the provinces into
the territories and the creation of new provinces, be repealed and the
former provisions restored. Along with the Government of the Northwest
Territories, we believe that constitutional development of the
Territories will be significantly hampered by this requirement. We
believe that there can be no justification for this measure which no
other province entering Confederation has been forced to meet.

We are seeking a requirement for consent to amendments to Part II
(Section 35 and proposed expansions) and Section 25 of the Constitution
Act, 1982. The necessity for consent of the Inuit to constitutional
change was amply demonstrated in November, 1981 when the clause which
I.C.N.I. had worked strenuously to obtain was dropped from the
constitutional resolution. We believe that consent to those provisions
of the Constitution that affect our people so radically is Fundamental
to our future role in Canadian society.

I.C.N.I. would wish to see a permanent process instituted on ongoing
issues of concern which the March conference will be unable to properly
deal with. This ongoing process involves matters which can only be
settled at the second stage of negotiations, where the general
constitutional principles will be further defineiand expanded. It may
well be that the March conference will also decide to institute a
continuing process at the constitutional level, to deal with certain
issues requiring further study and discussion. l.C.N.I. would welcome
such an initiative, as well.

Finally, we would point out that l.C.N.l.’s position as outlined
in our letter does not and should not be interpreted as fixed and
definitive, but rather as evolving with the current process of
constitutional discussions. I.C.N.I. notes that several
governments have already submitted proposals which are
encouraging: for example, the submission by Manitoba to amend
Section 36 to include a commitment by governments to provide
equalization payments, cost-sharing programs, and generally, to
provide aboriginal peoples with resources to adequately meet our
economic social and cultural needs. We are hopeful that in the
very near future all the participants in the March conference
will make known their views in order that a meaningful and
successful conference will take place. In the course of the next
two months, l.C.N.I.’s position then will be gradually shaped by
the current of the discussions with yours and other governments.

We would hope that this letter has been helpful in defining for
you, the parameters of our work on the Constitution. We are
anxious that you well understand our concerns and aspirations and
the necessity for changing the “status-quo” when it comes to the
aboriginal peoples, before meetingrwith us at the First Ministers
Conference. Accordingly we would like to suggest that we meet
with you sometime during the month oF February.

Our staff will he in contact with your office shortly in this
regard. we look forward to the opportunity of meeting with you.
Warmest regards,

Charlie Watt,
Inuit Committee on
National issues.

Tagak Curley,
Inuit Committee on
National Issues.

c.c. all Provincial Premiers

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