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Idle thoughts of self-government

By Sonny McGinnisRainy River F.N. (Manitou Rapids)

I offer the following comments regarding self-government issues because of the seriousness and danger I feel that has arisen from a national consultation process that is being carried out by the Department of Indian Affairs on behalf of the Government of Canada regarding changes to the Indian Act.

I believe it is time for us, as a people, to discuss the implications of this legislative exercise, internally to ourselves, and the effect it may have on us, as communities, and our treaty rights.

I realize many real-life issues are confronting us, many things occupy our worries, and that other forums have assumed the political responsibility to address these Indian Act changes. But the fact remains our lives will be affected by this legislative process and we do have a duty to protect what we deem to be our treaty relationship with Canada as members of Treaty #3.

In saying that, I think it’s also time we talked about a Treaty #3 governance process that is in its third year of operations and to ask our elected leaderships for an account of the activities and results it has produced thus far. And to confirm if it’s on the right track--and if it has the proper support from the communities it purports to represent.

I remember a few years ago when the concept of self-government was talked about by a few of us who were involved and working at the offices of Grand Council Treaty #3 in Kenora. I remember us speaking about the diversity amongst and between chief and council members at the band level, by the chiefs at the tribal levels, and between the political territorial organizations.

I remember our reflections about the dependency First Nation communities had on government funding, and how competitiveness for financial resources made it difficult for us to work together. How we had become better adversaries to each other then allies.

I recall our uneasiness, almost shame, as agents of a political office, with presumed advocacy and treaty protectorate responsibilities, to realize we were part of a political system who continually petitioned Crown governments for consultation dollars so we could talk about the

effect government policy had on our lives.

And we did so, knowing full well the effect government programs were having on our people and communities in terms of making them weaker and basically subservient to the will of the Crown government’s policy and money. We were policy driven then and continue to be policy driven now, and dependent on government-funded consultation processes to exist and operate.

Today, as our communities are being consulted about self-government

by the Treaty #3 office through a process that is funded by Indian Affairs, I wonder when our community membership will be invited in a meaningful way to review, consent, and endorse the Treaty #3 governance initiative which is undoubtably the most important event to us, as Anishanabe, since our ancestors signed our treaty, Treaty #3, on Oct. 3, 1873.

As of this time, only our chiefs have given approval for the Treaty #3 governance initiative through a chiefs’ resolution which was passed by an Assembly of Chiefs and that still remains without the authoritative consent of our respective band councils or, for that matter, our memberships.

It makes me wonder about the type of authority, Indian political offices continue to use, that Crown governments hungrily acknowledge, to access self-government and other funding. How is this supposed authority validated? Has the Treaty #3 governance initiative gotten what I believe is the required approval from our band councils to proceed?

Our band councils remain the only legitimate form of a governance system in place and that is elected by our membership. It is my view that our communities would never vest sole authority in one individual to make decisions or deals on matters concerning treaty rights that are universal to all of us as Treaty #3 members.

It is ludicrous to even think so.

Our ancestors established a political process for us in 1873 with the Government of Canada that only our people in a collective way have authority to alter and change. I hope we don’t fall into the federal government’s agenda by pretending to speak with one voice. We didn’t in 1873 and we still don’t in 2001.

I hope we don’t allow or provide the Canadian government with a way out of honouring its fiduciary duty and responsibility by us accepting to speak with one voice.

We know we can agree that we all speak commonly about our distinctiveness, independence, and interdependence with each other as Anishanabe in Treaty #3 territory. And that we can and have spoken collectively in relation to treaties. We all know the danger, too, of all the power being taken by a settler government (Canada) or the potential of a few of our own which can be exercised through oppressive administrations and mini-tyrannies.

As a people, it is our duty to make it impossible for an external government or a single group of people to maintain and assume such power over us ever again. I think us, as Anishanabe people, otherwise known as the Ojibways of Treaty #3 territory, we can all agree, it’s time for us as reserves and a people to seek and achieve freedom from an oppressive Indian Act regime and bureaucracy.

This administrative system of control has only made us more dependent and weak. We have become despondent and indifferent to the realities of our dysfunctions and with our inaction to deal with such matters.

I know I share a common sentiment with the majority of our people in wanting a political leadership that is accountable to its membership. I know, too, we do not want a political system of leadership that is accountable and that gets its authority from an archaic, destructive piece of legislative authority we know as the Indian Act.

Why should we, as Anishanabe, continue to trust such a deplorable instrument that originally was developed and used to weaken and displace our way of life and forms of government inherent in our customs and traditions?

Why do we accept the actions of the Department of Indian Affairs to work toward Indian Act changes that will only further immerse us within the confines of its oppressive administrative regime? Haven’t we seen enough examples of absolute unlimited power unleashed on our lands and people--and the desecration it has caused on us?

I wonder if we made a mistake in talking about our Anishanabe way of life when we should’ve been talking about a human way of life. I thought the terms of our treaty guaranteed co-existence and freedom for us to live and maintain our customs and traditions. Didn’t that include an obligation by Canada to respect and/or support our own forms of governance, language, sustenance, and spirituality among other treaty promises?

I wonder if the services we have assumed through jurisdictional transfer have resulted in an actual implementation of our traditional values and operating philosophies and principles. Have we proved to ourselves that brown-facing, government-style funded services have made a difference for our people other then changing the colour of the gate keeper?

Are we capable of reviewing the path we have chosen to walk in terms of jurisdictional transfers and self-government processes, and have we done so yet? Do we have the capacity to review and address jurisdictional assimilation in the context of the treaty relationship our forefathers created for us?

Don’t we have the capacity to formulate our own leadership and management regimes of governance rather than having a government department (Indian Affairs) assume that responsibility to do that on our behalf.

Indian Act changes huh . . . oh well, idle thoughts.

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