Indian Act Challenges

The nature of the fascist enemy faced by Allied forces in the Second World War necessitated some change in Native policy. Certainly an effort had to be made to exorcise from Canadian Indian policy those elements that seemed rooted in ideological soil similar to that which had given sustenance and growth to Nazism. In particular, clear problems were entailed in calling on Native soldiers to fight the Third Reich and its allies in the name of freedom, then subjecting those same individuals to the dictatorial domination of the Indian Department once they returned to their reserves.

Photo of Native Delegation, Ottawa, ON, Feb. 1951.

Native Delegation, Ottawa, ON, Feb. 1951.

These representatives of Canada's Native peoples met to discuss the provisions of the proposed Indian Bill as well as the consolidation and clarification of aspects of the Indian Act.
NAC (PA-184376, image by Gar Lunney).

1951 - Revised Indian Act

The revisions to the Indian Act passed in 1951 encompassed something of a revolution in the treatment of Natives by the Canadian government. Full privileges of citizenship, including voting rights under qualification, were conferred upon the Native population. Band councils acquired considerable authority over reserve lands, including the administration of funds and local by-laws. The election of band councils was to be by secret ballot, with Native women participating for the first time since the imposition of the original Indian Act. Restrictions upon political organizations and Native religious and cultural life, such as community dances and Potlatch ceremonies, were lifted. Although the Indian Act remained imperfect, and the supervisory role of the minister remained in effect with minor curtailments, Native bands now had the power to seek the funds and legal expertise necessary to pursue claims through the courts and to press for further reforms in the provincial and federal legislatures.

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1958 - (31 January) Appointment of James Gladstone to the Senate

Before becoming prime minister, Conservative leader John Diefenbaker frequently spoke of the need to address the absence of Native political representation in a nation where the vast majority of the Native population could not vote. When the Conservative Party formed the government in 1957, Diefenbaker had the opportunity to do something about the problem. On 31 January 1958, Diefenbaker appointed James Gladstone, a Blood Indian from Alberta, to the Senate, making him the first Native senator. Gladstone, seen by Diefenbaker as someone who could give the Native peoples of Canada an official voice at the national level, was a good choice for the post. Gladstone had long been active in Native organizations at the reserve and provincial level, had served as the president of the Alberta Indian Association, and had been sent to Ottawa three times as a delegate to discuss Indian problems and grievances. Gladstone had also contributed to the 1947 Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons studying the Indian Act. In these roles, Gladstone took up the cause of better education for Indians and opposed the residential school system in favour of integration in order to help reduce Indian marginalization. He was also a vocal advocate of treaty rights and of the need to encourage Native participation in and control of their own administration. Gladstone was a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party, although, like other Status Indians, he did not receive full voting rights until 1960. Gladstone took seriously Diefenbaker's vision of his role as national spokesmen for all Indians, and he travelled widely to visit and become acquainted with the situation of Indians across Canada. Gladstone also used his office to address issues relevant to his constituency. In his first speech in the Senate, he broke parliamentary practice by speaking in Blackfoot rather than in one of the country's two "official" languages. He did so in order that a language of the nation's first peoples would be placed in the official records of governance.

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The government's first response was to give Indian war veterans the right to vote in Canadian elections as recognition for their services. Then the government turned to the process of overhauling the Indian Act. Aboriginal representatives were invited to make submissions to the committees that were preparing the revisions. After a few false starts, the Act was finally amended in 1951 to remove some of its most overtly oppressive provisions. These clauses included the prohibitions on Indian dancing and the potlatch as well as the prohibition on raising money from Registered Indians to advance any Indian claim.

One of the contributors to the parliamentary hearings that led up to the Indian Act amendments of 1951 was an adopted Blood Indian of Cree and Irish ancestry named James Gladstone. When John Diefenbaker became prime minister in 1957, he appointed Gladstone to the Senate, making him the federal government's first Aboriginal parliamentarian. This appointment was meant to signal Diefenbaker's intentions to entrench a Bill of Rights and to extend the federal franchise to Registered Indians. When Canada's election laws were changed to include Indians, some First Nations people (including Albert Lightning of Alberta) objected. They feared that enfranchisement would mean the end to their special status as Indians. The Six Nations provided one of the main bastions for those who remained convinced that their citizenship was vested in the sovereign jurisdiction of their own Aboriginal nations and that the Canadian vote did not apply to them. Looking back over several generations when Indian "enfranchisement" meant being taken off the dominion government's registry of Status Indians, the conservatives among the First Nations held to their traditional position that they were allies of the Crown, not subjects of Canadian law.

Saskatchewan Experiments

Through the 1940s and 1950s, Saskatchewan was a veritable laboratory of social and political experiments whose outcomes would later be applied to the governance of the whole country. This pattern was especially pronounced in the field of Indian Affairs. In 1944, Tommy Douglas of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was elected to form the continent's first socialist government. The new premier took a particular interest in addressing the plight of the poorest and most obviously disempowered people in the province, namely the Registered Indians, the so-called non-Status Indians, and the Métis. When Douglas tried to extend the provincial vote to registered Indians, he ran into great resistance from those suspicious of his motivation. Was this yet another attempt at assimilation? This experience helped Douglas to understand the need to cultivate the support of institutions in Indian Country. Such support would anchor the kind of activism that would be required if Indian people collectively were to achieve a more equitable measure of representation in the Canadian political process.

Photo of Tommy Douglas's Cabinet, Regina, SK, 10 July 1944.

Tommy Douglas's Cabinet, Regina, SK, 10 July 1944.

Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas was sympathetic to Native concerns and favoured reform of Native policy.
SAB (R-A 7918-3).

Gradually, some members of the Douglas government came to understand the need to turn away from the assimilationist assumptions that had dominated Canadian Indian policy since the imperial government's "civilizing" policy of 1830. Instead, they proposed to adopt innovations that would facilitate forms of Aboriginal self-government similar to those that guided John Collier and others in the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs when they instituted the Indian New Deal and the Indian Reorganization Act in the mid-1930s. As an official in the Douglas government declared in 1946, "The Indian must be free to develop his own culture and not merely to imbibe ours; to learn his own history, and not to rely on our interpretation of it; to practice his own religion, and not be coerced into another; to devise his own means of self-government and not be cowed by ours." Tommy Douglas and the CCF government were thus integrally involved in the establishment of the Union of Saskatchewan Indians, an organization that still exists today as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. From its inception, the organization's primary goal has been to elevate Indian treaties to a higher and more respected role in Confederation.18

The pioneering efforts of the Douglas regime in putting limits on the assimilationist thrust of Indian policy and in working to better the standard of life of Indian and Métis people in Saskatchewan is not universally hailed as enlightened and progressive. Some have criticized the CCF's role in the genesis of Indian organizations in Saskatchewan as merely a more sophisticated version of an old non-Indian tactic to co-opt Indian agendas and to pre-empt initiatives genuinely generated from within Indian Country.

Diverse Ideals II

While Saskatchewan proved to be a major hothouse of experimentation in government-Aboriginal relations, Andy Paull patiently continued to conduct his organizational work through the North American Indian Brotherhood. Unfortunately, the continentalist ambitions announced in the organization's title lay well beyond the bounds of its very limited resources.

Photo of Powwow, Winnipeg, MB, 1979.

Powwow, Winnipeg, MB, 1979.

Powwows have became a forum for Native peoples from across North America to come together to express their traditional cultures and to explore common ground.
UM (PC 18, 18-2932-35).

A somewhat different approach to transcending the boundaries of Canada and the United States animated Lawrence Twoaxe, a Mohawk from Kahnawake, Quebec. Working from Oakland, California, he sought to forge what he called the League of Nations of Indians in North America, an organization modelled on the internationalist ideals of the original League of Nations. In the 1930s, the police and the Indian Department took this initiative seriously enough, especially in its Manitoba branch, to endeavour to put a stop to it.

Other activists chose to focus their efforts within Canada's boundaries. In 1961, the National Indian Council of Canada (NIC) was founded in Regina as something of a counterpart to the National Congress of American Indians that had been formed in the United States in 1944. The NIC served both cultural and political purposes. It organized Indian art shows, student exchanges, and an Indian princess pageant as well as played an important role in helping to organize and popularize the celebrations that came to be known as powwows. Innovations such as these proved to be very important in opening channels of cultural experimentation and evolution that brought people together who had previously had little contact.

1960 - National Indian Council

One of the goals of the ill-fated League of Indians had been to establish a national organization for Indians, but political, economic, and geographical impediments thwarted this ambition. In 1960, the National Indian Council was formed, successfully assuming the mantle that had proven too much for the league. The National Indian Council owed much to Prairie Indian leaders and the organizations that provided them political experience, in particular the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians.

In the 1960s, the organization engaged in little overt political action, focusing instead on cultural activities, an approach that culminated in its exhibition at Expo 67 in Montreal. In 1968, despite, or perhaps because, of its low-key approach to politics, the organization split along lines that have long characterized the dissension in Canadian Native ranks-Treaty Indians, largely from the West, on the one hand, and the Métis and non-Status Indians, on the other. Treaty Indians preferred to fight battles based on treaty rights, whereas the others, who lacked a formal government-recognized documentation of their status, advocated a course emphasizing inherent Aboriginal rights. This difference led to the disintegration of the National Indian Council and the creation of two separate successor bodies-the National Indian Brotherhood and the Canadian Métis Society.

The National Indian Brotherhood adopted a highly political strategy that had been honed in its battle against the White Paper. The NIB also led a vigorous attempt to wrest control of Indian education from the Department of Indian Affairs and to place it where it belonged-in Indian hands. The drive for self-government was also a major concern for the organization. During the struggles over the patriation of the Constitution in the early 1980s, the National Indian Brotherhood transformed itself into the Assembly of First Nations. The organization's new name was viewed as a more accurate reflection of the real position of Native peoples in Canada in that it presented them as the equals of the two officially recognized "founding peoples" of Canada, the English and the French.

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The NIC also became an important vehicle for political struggles that reframed old ideological divisions in Indian Country within the context of a rapidly changing society. The most legendary political fight took place in the mid-1960s between the NIC's president, William Wuttunee, and his challenger for the council's top job, Kahn-Tineta Horn. Wuttunee was a Cree lawyer educated at McGill University and the University of Saskatchewan. He had worked in the Saskatchewan government as an influential advisor for the Douglas regime. In later years, he would also work for the Trudeau Liberals, writing a book, Ruffled Feathers, to promote the new Indian policy proposed in 1969.

A Mohawk activist from Kahnawake, Kahn-Tineta Horn was pictured often in the news. She was a fashion model, an NIC princess, and an outspoken proponent of Indian sovereignty. The media made her an icon of glamour and controversy in a decade when fashionable Montreal reached its zenith. In later years, Kahn-Tineta Horn would advocate the philosophy of Louis Hall (reviver of the Warriors Society) and take a prominent place in 1990 among the Mohawk Warriors at Oka. Horn found a prime target in the highly polished William Wuttunee, characterizing him as an "apple" (red on the outside, but white on the inside) and hence a sellout and a collaborator. She presented him as being complicit with all the diabolical forces seeking to colonize Aboriginal peoples.

Wuttunee, who was supported by John Tootoosis, prevailed over the outspoken Horn in their electoral showdown. The harshness of the battle, however, pointed to many bitter debates to come. By the late 1960s, the stresses within the NIC made it unviable. One of the most difficult tensions was between those individuals whose identity as Treaty Indians was accepted by the Indian Department and those whose ancestors had not signed a treaty or whose names did not appear on government band lists. In particular, deep divisions emerged between the Métis and the Indian organizations in Western Canada. Some politicians, like Joe Dion, were able to move politically between the Indian and Métis branches of their families and constituencies. Generally speaking, however, the problems faced by Métis have been so different from those faced by the Registered Indians that different streams of activism have represented their issues.

1970 - The Native Council of Canada

In 1970, the various Prairie Métis organizations amalgamated in the Native Council of Canada, giving Métis and non-Status Indians a national voice for the first time. The council applied pressure to the government to include Métis in programs open to other Aboriginal peoples. It also focused on Métis land claims and constitutional concerns. The council's most significant victory was the inclusion of Métis people in the definition of Aboriginal peoples outlined in section 35 of the 1982 Constitution. In 1983, a split between Métis  and non-Status Indians resulted in the Métis leaving the Native Council of Canada to form the Metis National Council. From this forum, the Métis continued their constitutional battles and were rewarded with the creation of the Metis Nation Accord as part of the doomed Charlottetown Accord of 1992. The Native Council of Canada has subsequently recast itself as the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

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In 1968, the NIC split apart. From this division emerged the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB) to represent Registered Indians and the Native Council of Canada (NCC) to represent Métis and the so-called non-Status Indians. The pressures and forces that gave rise to these organizations at the national level tended also to percolate through the politics of Aboriginal affairs at the provincial or regional levels. In 1969, for instance, the Union of Nova Scotia Indians was created to join a host of similar agencies including the Union of Ontario Indians, the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, the Council of Yukon Indians, and the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories.

1969 White Paper

In 1969, a young and inexperienced minister of Indian affairs in the Trudeau cabinet named Jean Chrétien presented a proposal for sweeping policy changes that soon had become known as the White Paper. It called for the dismantling of the Department of Indian Affairs, the elimination of the federal Indian Act, and the municipalization of reserves under provincial laws of private property. As Sally Weaver and others have argued, the real impetus behind these initiatives was not so much any authentic concern for Indian people but rather Trudeau's crusade to counter the separatist drift of nationalism in Quebec. The goal was to emphasize the equality of all individual Canadian citizens.19 The effort to remove the institutional machinery of special status for Indian people announced the beginnings of a struggle to remake the constitution of Canada in a struggle that continues yet.

Photo of What-Smoke-Signals.gif

What-Smoke-Signals.gif

Minister of Indian Affairs Jean Chrétien seriously underestimated how opposed the Native community would be to his White Paper on Indian policy.
Aislin - Montreal.

1969 - White Paper

The government's response to the Hawthorn Report and the general climate of social reform in the 1960s was a document that the federal authorities widely regarded as revolutionary in approach. The existing policies for the administration of Natives in Canada were clearly not working to the satisfaction of either the government or the Aboriginal peoples, and a new set of ideas was proposed in a "White Paper" released in 1969. The White Paper proposed that the British North America Act be amended to eliminate any distinctions between Natives and other Canadians, that the Indian Act be repealed altogether, that the Department of Indian Affairs be scrapped, and that Natives should take over complete administration of their reserves. Federal responsibilities were to be passed on to the provinces, and Natives henceforth were to be considered as individual citizens. In effect, any special status that Natives had possessed was to be revoked, and treaties were to be abandoned as irrelevant. Native peoples viewed these proposals both as an abandonment of treaty rights as compensation for lands and as another attempt at assimilation. The Alberta Indian Association articulated the response of most Native groups in a report entitled Citizens Plus, which stated that Natives did not require wardship, but that their peoples' special status did necessitate recognition as did the rights established by treaties. The federal government eventually abandoned the White Paper in the face of almost unanimous and strident opposition from Aboriginal communities.

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Trudeau's White Paper was interpreted in some circles as a breakthrough. Even some Native leaders supported the initiative to bring Indian treaties to an end.20 But the prevailing view in Indian Country, as articulated particularly by Harold Cardinal in The Unjust Society and Dave Courchene in Wahbung: Our Tomorrows, was to reject the initiative. These authors argued that the White Paper employed the liberal language of the American civil rights movement mischievously and misleadingly. The real purpose, they proposed, was to step up the assimilationist thrust of the old "civilization" mission. The object of this mission has long been the disappearance of Indians as Indians, or, in other words, as Walter Dieter argued in 1969 in his capacity as president of the National Indian Brotherhood, to advance "cultural genocide."21 The concerted resistance of Aboriginal peoples across the country eventually forced the Trudeau regime to abandon, at least in theory, most of the proposals in the White Paper policy. However, the debate also established the basic framework of modern-day Aboriginal politics.

New Radicalism

The 1970s

Without the White Paper proposals, Trudeau's government decided instead to address the socio-economic problems faced by Indian reserves across the country. The inequities had been highlighted in a document called the Hawthorn Report that had been presented in the mid-1960s, and of which Canadians were increasingly being reminded in the mass media. A host of new organizations and bureaucracies was created to administer programs that addressed everything from basic housing to disputes over title to land and water.

Virtually all these organizations depended on the federal, provincial, or territorial governments for their funding. This funding structure has created the central dilemma of Aboriginal organizations: how do you conduct tough negotiations with the very authorities on whom you depend to finance your political and bureaucratic operations? More broadly, how can Native people at the community level trust that they are being fairly and honestly represented by their political organizations, when the people employed in those organizations are so dependent on their non-Aboriginal funding sources? A small class of career politicians and technocrats employed in and around band governments and Aboriginal organizations was initially hailed as a breakthrough for Aboriginal involvement in their own affairs but, over time, began increasingly to be perceived as more of an obstacle than a key to progress.

These issues had become especially prominent after the Trudeau regime came to power. Before 1968, activism and politics among Native people were largely conducted on a voluntary basis by self-sacrificing individuals. After that date, however, the development of Aboriginal technocracies opened many career paths for First Nations peoples with political aspirations or seeking employment in the nascent bureaucracies of an Aboriginal civil service.

While this development was a necessary stage in the return of the First Nations to some sort of Aboriginal self-government, the lack of any independent economic base underneath these reforms created much justification for suspicion. What was being done in the name of self-determination of Aboriginal peoples seemed to some like the imposition of a new colonialism or indirect rule. The old hierarchy of non-Aboriginal officialdom in Indian Affairs had simply been replaced by a new kind of top-down hierarchy peopled by a Native bureaucracy. Ultimately, the system would create a new Native managerial elite. In spite of the dedicated and expert public service given by some of their numbers, this elite group was inclined to have class interests that were very different from those of the vast majority of Native people who have remained on the country's socio-economic margins.

The American Indian Movement

This interpretation of the workings of modern-day neo-colonialism in Indian Country was essential to the emergence of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the late 1960s. AIM began as an association of Indian activists in the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. It drew its energy largely from the prisons, where Native sisterhoods and brotherhoods lobbied for religious freedom to practice Aboriginal ceremonies conducted by recognized traditionalists. Their activism led to study, prayer, and a growing web of alliances between Native people in prisons and in urban centres with the some of the most traditional people on Indian reserves. These reserve traditionalists were often the primary custodians of the old Aboriginal inheritances of philosophy and spirituality. They also tended to be among the most economically marginalized people in their communities.

Photo of Protest in Support of Wounded Knee, Toronto, ON, 1973.

Protest in Support of Wounded Knee, Toronto, ON, 1973.

Canadian activists show their support for the American Indian Movement's (AIM) standoff with the American government at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
AO (C 193-3-275, 73113, neg. 12).

AIM's polarizing energy led to a virtual civil war between traditionalists and the federally supported tribal administration on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. That community was the site of AIM's famous 1973 stand at Wounded Knee, the place of the infamous massacre of Siouan elders and children by the American cavalry in 1890. AIM's influence quickly spread to Canada. In 1974, members of the Ojibway Warriors' Society, an AIM-inspired group whose members had taken part in the confrontation at Wounded Knee the previous summer, made a similar stand at Anicinabe Park in Kenora, Ontario. Their leader was Louis Cameron. His own White Dog reserve was among those communities devastated by the pulp and paper industry's mercury pollution of the English-Wabigoon river system. This environmental crisis destroyed the Aboriginal fishery in the region.

1974 - Native People's Caravan

Native protest movements have taken various forms and embraced a wide range of causes. In 1974, a cross-country trek from Vancouver was organized to draw attention to the poor living conditions endured by many Natives in Canada. The Native People's Caravan, as it was called, had a number of demands. Its members supported the repeal of the Indian Act, suggesting that it be replaced by different legislation that recognized Native self-determination and land sovereignty. They also focused on the social, health, and educational problems that Native peoples confronted. The highlight of the march was intended to be the issuing of a manifesto during a rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The government overreacted to the march, calling out the riot police and the military to confront a peaceful protest movement. The government's actions brought further media attention to the event and the demands the Natives were making. The caravan, however, had little practical impact on the amelioration of Native conditions.

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The activism was then channelled into the Native Peoples' Caravan, a protest led by Cameron, which travelled to Ottawa in 1974. On Parliament Hill, riot squads met Cameron's group. The demonstrators, however, remained resolute in their demand for a formal response from federal authorities to their manifesto. They set up a kind of embassy on an island in the Ottawa River to press their issues on the attention of the people and government of Canada.

Among their demands was the request that "the hereditary and treaty rights of all Native Peoples in Canada... be recognized and respected in the constitution of Canada." They wanted an end of the Indian Act and the establishment of "new legislation recognizing our right to self-determination and sovereignty over our lands." The drafters of the document also called for a portion of revenues from Canada's natural resource wealth to go to Native peoples as well as an investigation into alleged corruption in the Department of Indian Affairs. The manifesto concluded with a "demand to an end of the destruction of our Native economies."22

Photo of Occupation of Anishinabe (Anicinabe) Park, Kenora, ON, 1974.

Occupation of Anishinabe (Anicinabe) Park, Kenora, ON, 1974.

In August of 1974, members of the White Dog reserve occupied Anicinabe Park, arguing that the land rightfully belonged to their band.
UM (PC 18, 18-2931-16).

The chief of the National Indian Brotherhood, George Manuel, worked with Louis Cameron in drawing attention to the harsh conditions faced by Native peoples in both reserves and urban milieus. Manuel's careful attentiveness to the more militant wings of Native activism helped to avoid the kind of overt conflict that developed in the United States when AIM split over the corrupt and violent regime of Pine Ridge chief Dick Wilson.

Nevertheless, the underlying inspirations of AIM, which sought to identify the workings of colonialism in the minds and institutions of Native peoples as well as in the workings of the non-Aboriginal power structures, continued to inform much activism in Indian Country in the years ahead. Certainly the activism of AIM and the Mohawk Warriors converged in the work and ideas of Louis Hall. The influence of AIM was also a factor in the actions of the protesters at Gustafsen Lake, British Columbia, and Ipperwash, Ontario, in 1995.

Similarly, the ideas of AIM flowed directly into Canada through the work of Arthur Solomon, who was the first Native elder to be recognized as a chaplain in Canada's penal system. One of Arthur Solomon's daughters, Sister Eva, worked from within the Roman Catholic Church through agencies such as the church-based Aboriginal Rights Coalition. In the mid-1970s, the ideas and inspirations of AIM were also integral to the efforts to establish the Calgary Urban Treaty Indian Alliance, a group devoted to the creation of a proper infrastructure of agencies to assist Native people living in that city. In 1975, it was reported that one of this group's young leaders, Nelson Small Legs Jr., had committed suicide in an extreme act of self-sacrifice. Small Legs was said to have taken his own life to protest the terrible wall of bureaucratic words used to disguise government inaction in the face of degenerating socio-economic conditions for many Native people in urban centres.

AIM's ideals have also influenced Canada in the campaign to release Leonard Peltier from penitentiary in the United States. Peltier was extradited from Canada in 1976 to face murder charges that are based on evidence that his supporters believe is highly dubious. He is thus widely viewed as a political prisoner and a symbol of all that is wrong with Indian policy in Canada and the United States. In 2000, special hearings were held in Toronto with the aim of encouraging President Bill Clinton to grant clemency to Peltier and to release the ailing freedom fighter from jail. Moreover, in a ruling outlining the court's reasons for refusing to allow a First Nations activist, James Pitawankwat, to be extradited back to Canada, an American judge in Portland, Oregon, criticized the Canadian government's handling of the Peltier extradition. The American judge drew attention to the use of "false affidavits" and the failure of Canadian authorities to allow Peltier to invoke the "political offenses exception" in the tainted extradition hearings in Vancouver.

Several hundred current and retired members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States responded to these developments by conducting a protest in front of the White House, the first time that the country's top federal law enforcement officers mounted this kind of overt political demonstration. Their purpose was to pressure Bill Clinton in the closing days of his presidency not to release Peltier. They succeeded in preventing the freeing of an individual who many, including Nelson Mandela and Amnesty International, believe has been wrongfully convicted.

Dene Nation

While the harsher confrontations of the mid-1970s served to call attention to some of the bitterest legacies of colonization, there were other, less sensational, disagreements that nevertheless proved vital in bringing to light scores of infections in the body politic left festering from a century of neglect. One of these emerged through a debate about the construction of an oil and gas pipeline through the Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territories.

1974 - Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry

During the 1950s and 1960s, the government had initiated the building of roads in the North, notably the Dempster Highway from Inuvik to Dawson City, in an effort to accommodate demands for the more efficient exploitation of Northern resources. When oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, in 1968, a proposal was made to build a pipeline that would run the length of the Mackenzie River and join existing pipeline systems in the south. Some 3,800 kilometres of land in the Northwest Territories would be affected by the pipeline system, but little thought was given to the consequences of the pipeline for the environment and the people who lived in the region. This indifference changed, however, as public protests led to the establishment of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry in 1974. Headed by Justice Thomas Berger, the inquiry consulted with local people who would be affected by the pipeline and adopted a policy of open communication with the media on the testimony that was presented. The result was intense public interest and debate. Berger recommended that the pipeline project be suspended for 10 years to allow Native peoples a period of adjustment. Although a pipeline from Norman Wells south to Alberta was eventually completed, the proposed Alaska route has never been finished.

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Discoveries of oil and gas in the Beaufort Sea precipitated a series of proposals for a pipeline to transport the petroleum to southern markets. One of the most heavily favoured routes led through Inuvialuit (Western Inuit) and Dene homelands. The prospect of a massive construction project through delicate Northern ecosystems with no obvious benefits for Northerners galvanized an effective opposition in the North among Aboriginal peoples and in the south among environmentalists and academics. The government commissioned a formal enquiry, chaired by Mr. Justice Thomas Berger, in response to the storm of protest.

The Berger inquiry conducted its public hearings not only in Canadian cities but also in the small hamlets and towns along the proposed route of the pipeline. This process enabled local Dene and Inuit trappers to give evidence. Generally, they spoke in their own languages through translators. Most often they commented on their way of life on the land and how their families would be traumatized and overturned if the kind of changes being contemplated were to go ahead without any plans even for their transition to a different kind of economy. These sessions were intensively and sympathetically covered in the Canadian media, facilitating a major transformation among southerners' attitudes towards the North This coverage also opened the doors to a broad audience for the debate on the contemporary meaning of Aboriginal and treaty rights.

1975 - Dene Nation and the Dene Declaration

In response to the furor raised by the Berger Commission and the Mackenzie Valley pipeline dispute, the Indian and Métis organizations of the Northwest Territories sought strength in numbers and united to form the Dene Nation. As a single body, they issued the Dene Declaration, an assertion of their rights to the land, which they argued had never been surrendered. They insisted that any proposed exploitation of either their lands or resources could not proceed until a settlement had been made with them. The declaration was also a statement of the nationhood of the Dene and the desire of the various Native peoples of the Northwest Territories to be considered as one. In the declaration, the Dene claimed their right to independence and self-government as a nation but situated those claims explicitly within the national context of Canada.

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The coming of the Berger inquiry to the Mackenzie Valley helped stimulate activism, especially among the Athapaskan speakers of that region. A key marker of this intellectual and political ferment was the transformation of the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories into the Dene Nation in 1975. The word Dene simply means "people" in the Athapaskan languages. This use of a Dene word of self-description was consistent with many similar assertions made by other Native groups in that era. The so-called Eskimos of Canada, for instance, insisted that they henceforth be described as Inuit. Similarly, the so-called Montagnais of Quebec and Labrador increasingly used their own word, "Innu," to identify themselves to the outside world.

The Dene Nation announced themselves to the world in a manifesto drawing heavily on the vocabulary introduced by George Manuel in his book, The Fourth World. The authors of the document explained, "our plea to the world is to help us in our struggle to find a place in the world community where we can exercise our right of self-determination as a distinct people and as a nation."23

The emergence of the Dene Nation also marked the growing prominence of Georges Erasmus on Canada's national stage. Like several other important Native activists of his generation, Erasmus worked with the Company of Young Canadians, an experiment in community development initiated under the regime of Prime Minister Lester Pearson. The most prominent member of a powerful political dynasty in Yellowknife, Erasmus displaced James Wah-Shee in 1975 in taking the top political job among the Dene. In the mid-1980s, Erasmus drew on strong backing from the Ontario chiefs to take over the top political job at the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa. His next success was as co-chair of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which conducted its work between 1991 and 1996.

Photo of Dene Family, ca. 1910.

Dene Family, ca. 1910.

The Dene, who occupied vast lands extending from the Northwest Territories to the northern plains, viewed themselves as a distinct people. This viewpoint was reflected in the Dene Declaration of 1975.
C. Hill-Tout, British North America (London: Archibald Constable, 1907).

By harnessing the language of nationhood to the larger collectivity of Dene people, its leadership anticipated similar developments throughout Indian Country. This change in emphasis from the politics of "brotherhood" to the politics of "nationhood" was best reflected in the emergence of the Assembly of First Nations from the National Indian Brotherhood in 1980. This change was accompanied by "A Declaration of the First Nations." In an affirmation intended to prepare an appropriate Indian posture vis-à-vis the new kind of politics in Canada arising from the imminent patriation of the Canadian constitution, the membership of the AFN declared "The Creator has given us the Right to Govern ourselves and the right to self-determination. The rights and responsibilities given to us by the Creator cannot be altered or taken away by any other Nation."24

1983 - Penner Report

The hopes of Native leaders that self-government for Aboriginal peoples could be realized were at their highest in 1983 with the release of the report of the Special Parliamentary Committee on Indian Self-Government. The committee, chaired by Liberal MP Keith Penner, stated that Native communities would prefer self-government rather than representation in Canadian legislative bodies.  The committee thus recommended that the Indian Act and the Department of Indian Affairs be phased out over an extended time period and replaced by local governments established by Native peoples themselves. Such recommendations, however, required the co-operation of the provincial legislatures, many of which were unwilling to opt for such a radical change. In 1984, the Penner Report fell to the wayside with the election of a Conservative government  that was more concerned with finding  a solution to the constitutional quagmire than addressing Aboriginal rights.

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The Dene Declaration also helped introduce what was later to become a loaded term into Canadian constitutional politics. The Dene described themselves as "a distinct people." In 1983, the report of a major parliamentary committee chaired by Keith Penner used similar language. The Penner report called for constitutional changes to recognize Indian self-government as a "distinct order" of Canadian government.25 The potential of these constitutional proposals, however, ended up not being applied to "the First Nations," another potent term given widened currency by the Penner report. Instead, in 1987, Canada's 11 first ministers unanimously agreed in a closed, all-night bargaining session to recognize Quebec in the constitution as "a distinct society."

The Berger inquiry hearings created the basis for animated exchange between a number of southern academics and Northern activists, including Georges Erasmus, James Wah-Shee, and Steven Kakfwi. In some instances, the education passed to the young southerners employed as researchers on the Berger inquiry helped point them in directions that would see them devote significant professional efforts in future years to establishing the intellectual justification for the recognition and affirmation of Aboriginal and treaty rights in a changing Canada. Among these gifted graduates of the Berger inquiry were Mel Watkins, Peter Russell, Ian Scott, Michael Asch, Ted Chamberlain, and Jean Morisset.

In 1977, Judge Berger issued his report entitled Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland.26 It called for a 10-year moratorium on any pipeline construction until disputes over contested land title in the Northwest Territories could be addressed and resolved. Beyond that, Berger emphasized that the Mackenzie Valley was a homeland for First Nations peoples even as it was also a resource frontier for economic interests centred in the south. In so doing, he placed a new light on a very old process in the history of the Americas. Essentially, he called for a rethinking of the North American faith in economic development that has historically devastated Indigenous peoples and the ecology of their ancestral lands.

Constitutional Negotiation 1

The emergence of "the constitution" as a central issue of Canadian politics through the late 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s has had enormous implications for the shape and content of Native activism in Canada. As has been discussed previously, Indigenous peoples in the nineteenth century resisted any transfer of powers from imperial centres to local, non-Aboriginal governments in what was then tellingly described as the "White dominions." The issue was raised again when the Trudeau government began the process of "patriating" the Canadian constitution in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Proponents of patriation sought to strengthen institutions of Canadian self-governance by overcoming the apparent anomaly that Canada's main constitutional instruments could be amended only by the British Parliament.

Several Indian organizations worked together in creating a lobby system to raise questions about patriation and demand proper safeguards to protect the rights and interests of the First Nations. George Manuel was one of the chief strategists in this campaign, highlighted in 1980 by the cross-Canada rail trip from British Columbia to Ottawa of "the Constitutional Express." Its purpose was to raise awareness of the implications for First Nations and for all Canadians generally of major structural changes to Canada's supreme law.

One of the central demands of the activists was that the constitutional agreement contain a provision recognizing and affirming the existence of Aboriginal and treaty rights. Constitutional protection would be a stronger safeguard than legislation because constitutional change requires broad-based agreement while legislation can be easily repealed with a change of government. Largely through the intervention of the New Democratic Party and an Inuit member of the federal Parliament, Peter Ittinuar, the activists succeeded in convincing Trudeau's government to insert a provision in the draft constitution act (section 34).

Then, on the eve of 5 November 1981, section 34 was dropped from the text when the federal government failed to convince the provincial premiers to accept it. Aboriginal leaders, including the Assembly of First Nations, were outraged, saying they had been betrayed: the Crown had failed to fulfill its legal responsibility to protect the rights of Aboriginal peoples. Many thousands of Native activists from coast to coast protested the removal of section 34. Native activists occupied the Museum of Anthropology in Victoria, British Columbia, demonstrated in force at the Alberta Legislature, and held a series of rallies on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. During the Ottawa protest, many Native war veterans displayed their medals as symbols of the sad irony that the first ministers could strip from them in a single evening the liberties they had fought to protect. Thomas Berger joined in the protest, penning an intervention in the Globe and Mail that subsequently led to his resignation from the judiciary for having taken a public stand on a political issue.

These displays of indignation caused the first ministers to relent in part. A new provision was placed in the text recognizing and affirming "the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada." Furthermore, Aboriginal peoples were defined in section 35 as comprised of Indians, Inuit, and Métis. For the Métis, a group that had been terribly marginalized in Canada since their military defeat in the 1885 North-West Rebellion, this recognition marked a political and legal breakthrough of genuinely monumental proportions.

Section 35 put in legal language many of the principles that had emerged from the Berger inquiry and the Dene Declaration of 1975. Moreover, the provision went at least part way to meeting one of the key demands of the Native Peoples' manifesto brought to Ottawa from Anicinabe Park in 1974. Technically, the provision does not create a new right where no right existed before. Instead, section 35 became a kind of bridge of legal interpretation to connect post-patriation Canada with the era when the British sovereign articulated some of the principles of existing Aboriginal rights in, for instance, the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

The great problem with section 35 was that Aboriginal peoples would have no formal say in defining its meaning, either through the process of constitutional amendment or through the process of judicial interpretation. The formula for constitutional amendment had particularly grave implications for the First Nations. It gave provincial governments control over defining existing Aboriginal and treaty rights, and those were the very governments that had earlier resisted accepting the idea that these rights even existed. Clearly the revised draft was still problematic.

Different Indian organizations turned to Great Britain either to stop patriation or to seek redress for their grievances. They asked how the British sovereign could transfer its responsibilities with respect to Indian treaties to authorities in Canada, without some sort of Indian consent for this process? They argued that this transfer of responsibilities without the consent of the Aboriginal participants in treaty agreements seemed to fly in the face of the most basic principles of contract law. Although the lobbyists failed in a court challenge and in their attempt to gain an audience with the Queen, their protests did ensure that Aboriginal issues dominated the House of Commons debate at Westminster. Fully 27 of the 30 hours of debate were devoted to the subject.

The Indian lobby brought many hundreds of Aboriginal elders, politicians, and their various advisers and technicians to Great Britain over a period of three years. The efforts to stop or modify patriation involved a significant logistical feat, which became part of the larger process of seeking international forums to counter the pressure to domesticate the status of Indigenous peoples as an internal matter for the nation state. Indian lobbyists found many venues for their efforts, including the British courts, the House of Lords, community events, and public relations efforts in the media

Photo of Repatriating the Constitution, Ottawa, ON, Apr. 1982.

Repatriating the Constitution, Ottawa, ON, Apr. 1982.

Queen Elizabeth II signs the Constitution Act, 1982. The Queen is accompanied by (left to right) Gerald Regan, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Michael Pitfield, and Michael Kirby.
NAC (PA-140705, image by Robert Cooper).

Finally, the new Constitution Act, 1982 was signed into effect. Section 37 called for a first ministers meeting "respecting constitutional matters that directly affect the Aboriginal peoples of Canada," to take place within one year of patriation. One of the main outcomes of this first conference was an agreement to continue to meet. Accordingly, between 1983 and 1987, four two-day constitutional conferences took place in Ottawa. Each was broadcast live, in its entirety, on the television network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The main purpose of these conferences was to come up with a constitutional definition of the "existing aboriginal and treaty rights" recognized in section 35. At these sessions, Canada's 11 first ministers consulted with the leaders of Canada's two federal territories and with delegations representing Registered Indians, the Inuit, the Métis, and a rather vaguely defined fourth grouping of so-called non-Status Indians and off-reserve Indians represented by the Native Council of Canada. Although these conferences served to publicize Aboriginal concerns, it was to be in other venues that more significant progress was made.

Assembly of First Nations

As the constitutional issue was convulsing Indian Country, the National Indian Brotherhood itself faced a rising wave of demands for reform. There was a sense that local and regional voices were not being heard and that the brotherhood was becoming increasingly centralized. So, when it met in Ottawa in 1982, a new organization, calling itself the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), emerged to represent Registered Indians in Canada. Based loosely on the structure of the old NIB, the AFN was to have a national chief and regionally elected vice-chiefs. In some ways, though, the new organization was much like its predecessor. It continued to fight for change at the constitutional level and, in particular, for the recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights as a fundamental principle. Also, like the NIB, it was soon criticized for its centralization and insensitivity to the variety of constituents whom it claimed to represent. In 1985, members from the Prairie provinces decided to break away and form their own organization, the Prairie Treaty Nations Alliance, which they felt could focus more effectively on issues faced by members of the Numbered Treaties.

Community Responses

Innu

While the Assembly of First Nations was pursuing change at the level of the constitution and philosophy, many Native communities were in crisis. For them, constitutional guarantees would do nothing to help the immediate, acute problems of housing shortages, suicide epidemics, and devastating alcoholism. Instead, they called on a community-based, "roots up" approach to addressing these issues. One of those troubled communities was in Labrador, or Nitassinan, as they call it, an area not covered by any treaty.

Photo of Inuit Family in Inuvik, NT, 14 Aug. 1972.

Inuit Family in Inuvik, NT, 14 Aug. 1972.

The massive incursion of southern culture into the everyday life of the Inuit created an almost impossible challenge for parents wishing to pass on traditional culture to their children.
UM (PC 18, 18-2180-33).

The Innu (as the Indian people of Labrador refer to themselves) called attention to their plight in a concerted opposition to the activities of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization jet training facility at Goose Bay. This campaign, which received significant support in the late 1980s from environmental and peace activists on both sides of the Atlantic, led to demonstrations, sit-ins, and criminal trials that helped politicize the quest of the Innu for fair treatment. Another target of their protest in the mid-1990s was the International Nickel Company, which purchased title to the huge nickel deposit at Voisey's Bay. The human side of the politics of exclusion and diminished hope faced by the Indigenous peoples of Nitassinan was underlined by recurring rounds of media attention aimed at chronicling a suicide epidemic of mostly young people at the Innu reserve of Davis Inlet. In 1993, 90 attempted suicides occurred in a community of only 500 people. Then, in the late 1990s, an epidemic of gas sniffing among the youth at Sheshatshiu captured the essence of the human tragedy being played out in the region.

The struggle of the Innu in Nitassinan has given rise to the work of a number of important Aboriginal spokespeople, including Katie Rich, Peter Penashue, Daniel Ashini, and Mr. Justice James Igloliorte, the first Aboriginal judge in Newfoundland and Labrador. Peter Penashue is on record as having said, "just as Israel will have to deal with the PLO... Canada will have to deal with the Innu."27 In a speech to the Newfoundland Teachers' Association, Daniel Ashini presented a devastating critique not only of the experience of the Innu but also of virtually all First Nations moved off the lands and resources of the Americas to make way for hostile forms of industrial exploitation. He said: "The frontier vision is, for us, a vision of death. It says we have no place in Labrador and Eastern Quebec, except as a rotting heap of humanity clustered in rural ghettos."28

Women's Rights

Gender issues had been percolating since the 1960s, when Mary Two-Axe Early, a Kahnawake woman, brought her case to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. She pointed out that under the Indian Act, a Status Indian woman who married a non-Indian man would lose her status, but the same was not true for an Indian man who married a non-Indian woman. Early became a lightning rod for the issue, and founded Equal Rights for Indian Women. This organization and its successors (including the Native Women's Association of Canada) supported women like Jeanette Corbiere Laval, Sandra Lovelace, Mary Lou Fox, and others who carried on the legal and political struggle for gender equality in the government's definition of First Nations' citizenship.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 provided a legal tool for their campaigns. Using the Charter, these women demanded and finally received equal treatment under the law. Bill C-31, a bill to amend the Indian Act, was passed in 1985. This legislation eliminated the discriminatory clause and provided that women who had been removed from band lists under it could apply for reinstatement (as could their children).

While many Canadians saw this issue as a straightforward matter of simple justice, it actually posed a fundamental challenge to the concept of Aboriginal rights. The Assembly of First Nations and others had long been arguing that Aboriginal rights were collective rights, but the arguments for women's rights were based on liberal ideas of individual equality, not collective identity. Thus, not all Aboriginal people (including quite a few women) opposed the passage of Bill C-31. Many of the amendment's opponents felt that this legislative enactment consolidated Parliament's subordination of the First Nations even as it undermined the group basis of Aboriginal rights.

The Native Women's Association of Canada took an active role in the campaign against the Charlottetown Accord in 1992, producing television ads and going to court to win the right to official standing in the first ministers' constitutional consultations. Their concern was that recognition of an inherent right to Aboriginal self-government, disconnected from any necessity to adhere to those individual rights outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would lead to the entrenchment of patriarchal and unaccountable forms of band government on many Indian reserves.

Lubicon

Another difficult issue in the 1980s and 1990s continued to swirl around those parts of Canada where treaties were negotiated but where whole Aboriginal communities had been excluded from the original negotiations. This lack of standing often deprived them and their descendants of any secure land base. The most famous such case is that of the Lubicon Lake Cree Nation in the Peace River district of Alberta.

Photo of IAA Representatives, Ottawa, ON. n.d.

IAA Representatives, Ottawa, ON. n.d.

The Indian Association of Alberta (IAA), founded in 1939, has lobbied governments on such issues as land claims, mineral rights, and Native education. The representatives in front of Parliament are (left to right): Mark E. Steinhauer, Saddle Lake; Ed Hunter, Morley; Albert Lightning, Hobbema; John Callihoo, Villeneuve; and Frank Cardinal, Driftpile.
GA (NA-4212-41).

The Lubicon Lake people were among those Native bands missed by the dominion's negotiators in Treaty 8, which was formalized in 1898 and 1899 following the discovery of gold in the Klondike. In 1940, the federal government moved to create a reserve for the Lubicons, but this initiative was abandoned when the parties could not agree on the size or location of the reserve. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Harold Cardinal and the Indian Association of Alberta attempted to draw attention to the problem, which was becoming particularly acute as the oil and gas industry pushed into the previously isolated ancestral lands of the formerly self-sufficient Lubicons. The Lubicons and their supporters, especially in the World Council of Churches, brought their grievances to the Alberta judiciary and subsequently to the court of public opinion in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Japan. At the centre of this international activism was a very close partnership between the Lubicon Chief, Bernard Ominayak, and his principal advisor, Fred Lennarson. The latter was a highly effective student of the American civil rights movement and of the well-known social activist, Saul Alinsky.

The Lubicons and their supporters pioneered many new frontiers of activism using, for instance, the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics to publicize their issues. Where the federal Crown corporation, Petro-Canada, organized the cross-Canada Olympic Torch Run to "Share the Flame," the Lubicons and their allies organized a parallel event calling on Canadians to "Share the Shame." In a related action that severely polarized the world of professional anthropologists and ethnographers, the Lubicons attached their issues to an exhibit of Native artefacts mounted by the Glenbow Museum, called "The Spirit Sings." This display was designed as the principal cultural event associated with the Calgary Olympics and was designed to travel across the country. The Lubicons called on museums to boycott the exhibit, arguing that is was hypocritical for oil and gas companies, including Petro-Canada and Shell Oil, to sponsor the exhibit, given their own role in the despoliation of Lubicon lands. They asked, how could such enterprises ethically associate their corporate images with the Aboriginal heritage, when they were actively engaged in obliterating the territorial and economic basis for First Nations peoples themselves to express continuity with their own cultural roots?29

In the 1990s, the Lubicons broadened the target of their activism from government to a range of corporations whose operations impacted negatively on Lubicon lands. In particular, they targeted the Diashowa company of Japan, a manufacturer of paper products. Working through their allies organized as Friends of the Lubicons, a group that was closely connected to the Aboriginal Rights Coalition supported by Canada's mainstream Christian churches, the Lubicon organized a boycott of Diashowa.

In the late 1990s, the Diashowa corporation took the Friends of the Lubicons to court in an attempt to have the boycott outlawed. The case, which raised fundamental constitutional issues of freedom of expression, drew the support of the Sierra Club's legal defence fund. Many important legal and political debates emerged from this widening of the sphere of Aboriginal activism into the thoroughfares of commerce and corporate imagery. One issue involved the contrast between the easy ability of a foreign company to acquire title to contested lands, and the frustration of Indigenous peoples in their own concerted efforts to assert jurisdictional and proprietary rights. Another issue concerned the judicial determination of whether or not the word "genocide" could lawfully be used to describe the experience of First Nations peoples on the frontiers of industrial development.30

James Bay Cree

Photo of Chief Esau's Tipi, James Bay Region, QC, ca. 1907.

Chief Esau's Tipi, James Bay Region, QC, ca. 1907.

The James Bay Cree's traditional hunting ground in northern Quebec is a harsh and often unforgiving environment.
GA (NA-726-7).

The Cree peoples, whose traditional hunting territories lie in northeastern Quebec, have formed an especially important centre of Native activism since the early 1970s. In 1973, they challenged in court Hydro Quebec's massive installations in their ancestral lands and waters. Acting on the interpretation developed by F.R. Scott, the famed civil libertarian who in those years was Dean of the Law School at McGill University, the Crees won their case. Their victory can be seen as a reflection of the Canadian judiciary's growing familiarity with the constitutional heritage of Crown recognition of Aboriginal title as codified especially in the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

James Bay Power Project, Quebec, May 1973.

James Bay Power Project, Quebec, May 1973.

Massive energy production programs in the North, such as the one at James Bay, met with controversy. Planners were forced to balance energy needs with Native and environmental concerns.
Paul Hackett.

Developments in the courts led Cree and Inuit representatives to negotiate in 1975 the first new treaty in Canada since the adhesion to Treaty 9 had been formalized in 1929. The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement represented a major break with the century-long regime of the Indian Act. Through their treaty with the federal government as well as with the government of Quebec, the Cree acquired an infrastructure of self-governing institutions, including an education authority, a health and social services authority, and the capacity to establish business corporations such as Air Creebec. The James Bay Agreement, which was modelled in part on the Alaska Claims Settlement of 1971, established some basic models. These frameworks were replicated, with modifications, in the treaties negotiated with the Inuit and Indian groups in Canada's remaining federal territories in 1984 and throughout the 1990s.

From their relatively strong base of self-governing institutions, the James Bay Crees soon looked to the international community as one site of their lobbying efforts. They gained the status of a non-governmental organization at the United Nations and took part regularly in the annual gatherings in Geneva conducted by the UN's Working Group on Indigenous Populations. This international experience was to prove crucial when, in the early 1990s, the Cree looked to allies in the United States and elsewhere to help them stop an enormous expansion of Hydro-Quebec's dam works. This expansion was known as the Great Whale project. Among the Crees' allies were Robert Kennedy Jr. and the Sierra Club, one of the world's oldest and most influential environmental lobbies. As part of their drive to publicize their opposition to the Great Whale project, the Crees paddled a large canoe named Odayak from their own territory to New York City, where its crew played a high-profile role in that city's Earth Day.

The fight against Hydro Quebec gave rise to the participation on the international stage of Cree leader Mathew Coon Come. Chief Coon Come was especially outspoken in his insistence that the Cree would never allow their ancestral lands to be part of a sovereign Quebec if that province's independence movement was ever to attempt secession from the rest of Canada. On the eve of the Quebec referendum on sovereignty in 1995, Chief Coon Come organized a referendum among his own people. They gave him resounding support for his position vis à vis the possibility of Quebec independence. Mathew Coon Come frequently framed his arguments in very general terms, elaborating his view of the inherent right of all Indigenous peoples in Canada and beyond to exercise self-determination. His eloquence helped win him the top political job in Indian Country. In 2000, he defeated the incumbent, Phil Fontaine, in the contest for the position of national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Community Responses

Innu

While the Assembly of First Nations was pursuing change at the level of the constitution and philosophy, many Native communities were in crisis. For them, constitutional guarantees would do nothing to help the immediate, acute problems of housing shortages, suicide epidemics, and devastating alcoholism. Instead, they called on a community-based, "roots up" approach to addressing these issues. One of those troubled communities was in Labrador, or Nitassinan, as they call it, an area not covered by any treaty.

Photo of Inuit Family in Inuvik, NT, 14 Aug. 1972.

Inuit Family in Inuvik, NT, 14 Aug. 1972.

The massive incursion of southern culture into the everyday life of the Inuit created an almost impossible challenge for parents wishing to pass on traditional culture to their children.
UM (PC 18, 18-2180-33).

The Innu (as the Indian people of Labrador refer to themselves) called attention to their plight in a concerted opposition to the activities of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization jet training facility at Goose Bay. This campaign, which received significant support in the late 1980s from environmental and peace activists on both sides of the Atlantic, led to demonstrations, sit-ins, and criminal trials that helped politicize the quest of the Innu for fair treatment. Another target of their protest in the mid-1990s was the International Nickel Company, which purchased title to the huge nickel deposit at Voisey's Bay. The human side of the politics of exclusion and diminished hope faced by the Indigenous peoples of Nitassinan was underlined by recurring rounds of media attention aimed at chronicling a suicide epidemic of mostly young people at the Innu reserve of Davis Inlet. In 1993, 90 attempted suicides occurred in a community of only 500 people. Then, in the late 1990s, an epidemic of gas sniffing among the youth at Sheshatshiu captured the essence of the human tragedy being played out in the region.

The struggle of the Innu in Nitassinan has given rise to the work of a number of important Aboriginal spokespeople, including Katie Rich, Peter Penashue, Daniel Ashini, and Mr. Justice James Igloliorte, the first Aboriginal judge in Newfoundland and Labrador. Peter Penashue is on record as having said, "just as Israel will have to deal with the PLO... Canada will have to deal with the Innu."27 In a speech to the Newfoundland Teachers' Association, Daniel Ashini presented a devastating critique not only of the experience of the Innu but also of virtually all First Nations moved off the lands and resources of the Americas to make way for hostile forms of industrial exploitation. He said: "The frontier vision is, for us, a vision of death. It says we have no place in Labrador and Eastern Quebec, except as a rotting heap of humanity clustered in rural ghettos."28

Women's Rights

Gender issues had been percolating since the 1960s, when Mary Two-Axe Early, a Kahnawake woman, brought her case to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. She pointed out that under the Indian Act, a Status Indian woman who married a non-Indian man would lose her status, but the same was not true for an Indian man who married a non-Indian woman. Early became a lightning rod for the issue, and founded Equal Rights for Indian Women. This organization and its successors (including the Native Women's Association of Canada) supported women like Jeanette Corbiere Laval, Sandra Lovelace, Mary Lou Fox, and others who carried on the legal and political struggle for gender equality in the government's definition of First Nations' citizenship.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 provided a legal tool for their campaigns. Using the Charter, these women demanded and finally received equal treatment under the law. Bill C-31, a bill to amend the Indian Act, was passed in 1985. This legislation eliminated the discriminatory clause and provided that women who had been removed from band lists under it could apply for reinstatement (as could their children).

While many Canadians saw this issue as a straightforward matter of simple justice, it actually posed a fundamental challenge to the concept of Aboriginal rights. The Assembly of First Nations and others had long been arguing that Aboriginal rights were collective rights, but the arguments for women's rights were based on liberal ideas of individual equality, not collective identity. Thus, not all Aboriginal people (including quite a few women) opposed the passage of Bill C-31. Many of the amendment's opponents felt that this legislative enactment consolidated Parliament's subordination of the First Nations even as it undermined the group basis of Aboriginal rights.

The Native Women's Association of Canada took an active role in the campaign against the Charlottetown Accord in 1992, producing television ads and going to court to win the right to official standing in the first ministers' constitutional consultations. Their concern was that recognition of an inherent right to Aboriginal self-government, disconnected from any necessity to adhere to those individual rights outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would lead to the entrenchment of patriarchal and unaccountable forms of band government on many Indian reserves.

Lubicon

Another difficult issue in the 1980s and 1990s continued to swirl around those parts of Canada where treaties were negotiated but where whole Aboriginal communities had been excluded from the original negotiations. This lack of standing often deprived them and their descendants of any secure land base. The most famous such case is that of the Lubicon Lake Cree Nation in the Peace River district of Alberta.

Photo of IAA Representatives, Ottawa, ON. n.d.

IAA Representatives, Ottawa, ON. n.d.

The Indian Association of Alberta (IAA), founded in 1939, has lobbied governments on such issues as land claims, mineral rights, and Native education. The representatives in front of Parliament are (left to right): Mark E. Steinhauer, Saddle Lake; Ed Hunter, Morley; Albert Lightning, Hobbema; John Callihoo, Villeneuve; and Frank Cardinal, Driftpile.
GA (NA-4212-41).

The Lubicon Lake people were among those Native bands missed by the dominion's negotiators in Treaty 8, which was formalized in 1898 and 1899 following the discovery of gold in the Klondike. In 1940, the federal government moved to create a reserve for the Lubicons, but this initiative was abandoned when the parties could not agree on the size or location of the reserve. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Harold Cardinal and the Indian Association of Alberta attempted to draw attention to the problem, which was becoming particularly acute as the oil and gas industry pushed into the previously isolated ancestral lands of the formerly self-sufficient Lubicons. The Lubicons and their supporters, especially in the World Council of Churches, brought their grievances to the Alberta judiciary and subsequently to the court of public opinion in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Japan. At the centre of this international activism was a very close partnership between the Lubicon Chief, Bernard Ominayak, and his principal advisor, Fred Lennarson. The latter was a highly effective student of the American civil rights movement and of the well-known social activist, Saul Alinsky.

The Lubicons and their supporters pioneered many new frontiers of activism using, for instance, the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics to publicize their issues. Where the federal Crown corporation, Petro-Canada, organized the cross-Canada Olympic Torch Run to "Share the Flame," the Lubicons and their allies organized a parallel event calling on Canadians to "Share the Shame." In a related action that severely polarized the world of professional anthropologists and ethnographers, the Lubicons attached their issues to an exhibit of Native artefacts mounted by the Glenbow Museum, called "The Spirit Sings." This display was designed as the principal cultural event associated with the Calgary Olympics and was designed to travel across the country. The Lubicons called on museums to boycott the exhibit, arguing that is was hypocritical for oil and gas companies, including Petro-Canada and Shell Oil, to sponsor the exhibit, given their own role in the despoliation of Lubicon lands. They asked, how could such enterprises ethically associate their corporate images with the Aboriginal heritage, when they were actively engaged in obliterating the territorial and economic basis for First Nations peoples themselves to express continuity with their own cultural roots?29

In the 1990s, the Lubicons broadened the target of their activism from government to a range of corporations whose operations impacted negatively on Lubicon lands. In particular, they targeted the Diashowa company of Japan, a manufacturer of paper products. Working through their allies organized as Friends of the Lubicons, a group that was closely connected to the Aboriginal Rights Coalition supported by Canada's mainstream Christian churches, the Lubicon organized a boycott of Diashowa.

In the late 1990s, the Diashowa corporation took the Friends of the Lubicons to court in an attempt to have the boycott outlawed. The case, which raised fundamental constitutional issues of freedom of expression, drew the support of the Sierra Club's legal defence fund. Many important legal and political debates emerged from this widening of the sphere of Aboriginal activism into the thoroughfares of commerce and corporate imagery. One issue involved the contrast between the easy ability of a foreign company to acquire title to contested lands, and the frustration of Indigenous peoples in their own concerted efforts to assert jurisdictional and proprietary rights. Another issue concerned the judicial determination of whether or not the word "genocide" could lawfully be used to describe the experience of First Nations peoples on the frontiers of industrial development.30

James Bay Cree

Photo of Chief Esau's Tipi, James Bay Region, QC, ca. 1907.

Chief Esau's Tipi, James Bay Region, QC, ca. 1907.

The James Bay Cree's traditional hunting ground in northern Quebec is a harsh and often unforgiving environment.
GA (NA-726-7).

The Cree peoples, whose traditional hunting territories lie in northeastern Quebec, have formed an especially important centre of Native activism since the early 1970s. In 1973, they challenged in court Hydro Quebec's massive installations in their ancestral lands and waters. Acting on the interpretation developed by F.R. Scott, the famed civil libertarian who in those years was Dean of the Law School at McGill University, the Crees won their case. Their victory can be seen as a reflection of the Canadian judiciary's growing familiarity with the constitutional heritage of Crown recognition of Aboriginal title as codified especially in the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

James Bay Power Project, Quebec, May 1973.

James Bay Power Project, Quebec, May 1973.

Massive energy production programs in the North, such as the one at James Bay, met with controversy. Planners were forced to balance energy needs with Native and environmental concerns.
Paul Hackett.

Developments in the courts led Cree and Inuit representatives to negotiate in 1975 the first new treaty in Canada since the adhesion to Treaty 9 had been formalized in 1929. The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement represented a major break with the century-long regime of the Indian Act. Through their treaty with the federal government as well as with the government of Quebec, the Cree acquired an infrastructure of self-governing institutions, including an education authority, a health and social services authority, and the capacity to establish business corporations such as Air Creebec. The James Bay Agreement, which was modelled in part on the Alaska Claims Settlement of 1971, established some basic models. These frameworks were replicated, with modifications, in the treaties negotiated with the Inuit and Indian groups in Canada's remaining federal territories in 1984 and throughout the 1990s.

From their relatively strong base of self-governing institutions, the James Bay Crees soon looked to the international community as one site of their lobbying efforts. They gained the status of a non-governmental organization at the United Nations and took part regularly in the annual gatherings in Geneva conducted by the UN's Working Group on Indigenous Populations. This international experience was to prove crucial when, in the early 1990s, the Cree looked to allies in the United States and elsewhere to help them stop an enormous expansion of Hydro-Quebec's dam works. This expansion was known as the Great Whale project. Among the Crees' allies were Robert Kennedy Jr. and the Sierra Club, one of the world's oldest and most influential environmental lobbies. As part of their drive to publicize their opposition to the Great Whale project, the Crees paddled a large canoe named Odayak from their own territory to New York City, where its crew played a high-profile role in that city's Earth Day.

The fight against Hydro Quebec gave rise to the participation on the international stage of Cree leader Mathew Coon Come. Chief Coon Come was especially outspoken in his insistence that the Cree would never allow their ancestral lands to be part of a sovereign Quebec if that province's independence movement was ever to attempt secession from the rest of Canada. On the eve of the Quebec referendum on sovereignty in 1995, Chief Coon Come organized a referendum among his own people. They gave him resounding support for his position vis à vis the possibility of Quebec independence. Mathew Coon Come frequently framed his arguments in very general terms, elaborating his view of the inherent right of all Indigenous peoples in Canada and beyond to exercise self-determination. His eloquence helped win him the top political job in Indian Country. In 2000, he defeated the incumbent, Phil Fontaine, in the contest for the position of national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Confrontation

Blockades

Many people consider that modern-day treaty making in Canada began in 1973, when the federal government responded to a Supreme Court ruling in a case brought forward by the Nisga'a Indians. Although the Nisga'a lost their case, some of the justices asserted that there was such as thing as Aboriginal land title in Canadian law. Their ruling was, in large measure, based on their discovery of the tradition of Crown-Aboriginal relations going back to the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

Cartoon

Halt," 1990.

Quebec's police force, the Sureté du Québec, attempted to resolve the Oka conflict—a confrontation between Mohawks and the government over disputed lands. Some Quebecers accused the Sureté du Québec of using excessive force and actually escalating the conflict.
Aislin - Montreal.

In response to the judges' ruling on the Nisga'a case, the Trudeau government set up an office, a process, and funding to examine Native claims. But the new process moved slowly. Frustration with government handling of claims and with the hopelessly small bureaucracy set up to deal with them led to the Aboriginal blockades set up from coast to coast through the 1970s and 1980s. These protests climaxed during what was dubbed the "Indian summer" of 1990. In one sense, these Aboriginal blockades, especially on the rail lines and logging roads of British Columbia, can be viewed as classic expressions of civil disobedience in the pacifist tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The major preoccupation of the protagonists in these protests was to call attention to the illegal actions of the governments and businesses that are seen as the real violators of the rule of law.

One of the important protests during the Indian summer of 1990 took place at Long Lake Reserve 58 in northwestern Ontario. In August of that year, a blockade was established on the Canadian National Railways' (CNR) transcontinental line that ran through their reserve. The purpose was to draw attention to the band's land dispute. The band had been passed over in both the Robinson-Superior Treaty of 1850 and Treaty 9 in 1905 and 1906, so the 1,000 members established themselves on a tiny reserve consisting of less than a square mile of dank swampland. Rayno Fisher, an elderly trapper, explained the basis of the action by saying, "We're not trespassing the CNR. The CNR has been trespassing us for more than 75 years." When the group was served an injunction defining the people of Long Lake 58 as trespassers on their own reserve, Frances Abraham made a similarly pertinent remark. She asked why it was always the Indians who had to come up with so much documentary evidence to support their so-called "claims," whereas non-Indian individuals and companies, like the CNR, seem rarely to have to prove anything about where and how they got the title to the lands they use.31

Oka

1990 - Oka Crisis

The Oka crisis was in origin a land claims issue. Mohawk peoples objected to the expansion of a municipal golf course onto sacred Native burial grounds during the summer of 1990. To protest this intrusion, Mohawk warriors from the Kanesatake and Kahnawake reserves blockaded a road that led into the golf course near the small town of Oka (south of Montreal). Tensions escalated when the Mayor called in the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) to remove the blockade. The SQ stormed the barricades on 11 July 1990 but met considerable resistance from the well-armed warriors. One officer was shot dead. The Canadian armed forces were called in and a standoff ensued between government and Mohawk forces. Peaceful negotiations ultimately ended the Oka crisis 78 days after it had begun.


The crisis, although marred by violence, has had positive effects for many Canadian Aboriginal people. It helped to give a national profile to First Nations issues, especially regarding land claims, and, according to at least some members of the community, forced governments to listen to and take seriously Native grievances. Oka became a rallying cry for Native peoples, encouraging them in their struggle with government authorities for Aboriginal rights.

Photo of Mohawks at Oka watching news of Oka crisis

Mohawks Watching Oka Crisis News on Barricades

Benoît Aquin, Library and Archives Canada, 3602895

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A long-simmering dispute in Quebec provided the first flashpoint; certainly this confrontation was the most publicized event of that summer of 1990. The Mohawk community of Kanesatake had been complaining since the eighteenth century that outsiders were claiming the right to sell lands that the Mohawk had never agreed to cede. Particularly at issue was a seigneurie granted to the Sulpician religious order. In 1879, the Canadian government set up a new reserve in the Muskoka district of central Ontario, hoping that the people at Oka would simply leave. Some residents chose to remain, however, and the issue festered. In 1903, the Mohawks went to court, taking the case all the way to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Great Britain, then the highest imperial court. They lost the decision, and the land was confirmed as belonging to the Sulpicians on the grounds that there was no such thing as Aboriginal title.

In 1945, the government once again attempted to solve the problem by purchasing a small tract of land from the Sulpicians, but clearly this manoeuvre was not a solution in the eyes of the Mohawk community. When the Quebec legislature set aside land for a nine-hole golf course in 1959, the Mohawks protested yet again, asking the Diefenbaker government to disallow the legislation. Once the Canadian government had set up its new claims process in the 1970s, the people at Oka decided to try to make use of this avenue as well. Although Minister of Indian Affairs Bill McKnight acknowledged in 1986 that there was clearly a problem here and some kind of solution had to be found, the government was not convinced that the Mohawk community possessed a legitimate comprehensive or local claim.

Before the government had taken any action, however, the municipality of Oka applied to enlarge its nine-hole golf course, and, in the summer of 1990, the people of Kanesatake found themselves protesting yet again. This time, the well-armed Mohawk Warriors Society, a group who looked to Kanewake's Louis Hall for spiritual guidance and mentorship, came to their aid and set up a road blockade to prevent the construction from proceeding. The Sûreté du Quebec, the province's police force, decided to storm the barricade and dismantle it, but, in the process, one of its constables was shot and killed. The protest began to attract considerable media attention, and Aboriginal supporters from across the country rallied to the cause. The stakes were raised when the Quebec government asked for the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces and a weeks-long standoff developed. Once again, the Canadian government tried to solve the problem by purchasing a block of land for use by the Kanesatake Mohawks, but clearly, the underlying issues had not been addressed.


Photo of Mohawks at Oka watching news of Oka crisis

Mohawks Watching Oka Crisis News on Barricades

Benoît Aquin, Library and Archives Canada, 3602895

Lonefighters

Prominent among the other Aboriginal protests that constituted the Indian summer of 1990 were a group known as the Peigan Lonefighters. Using heavy equipment, they attempted to divert the flow of the Oldman River in southern Alberta around an irrigation installation on their reserve. Their goal was to publicize Peigan opposition to the construction of the Oldman Dam in the heartland of Treaty 7 and the Blackfoot Confederacy. The group's most prominent spokesperson, Milton Born With A Tooth, made no secret of his desire to use many of the tactics advocated by the Mohawk Warriors. When Alberta officials sent a crew to shut down the Lonefighters' diversion of the river, Born With A Tooth fired what he claimed were two warning shots. His use of a firearm helped stimulate a very active debate, especially among First Nations activists, about whether or not armed resistance was justifiable in any circumstances. Ovide Mercredi, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations from 1991 to 1997, became outspoken in his advocacy of unconditional non-violence.32

Constitutional Negotiations 2

Meech Lake

Quebec premier René Lévesque had refused to agree to the constitutional arrangements of 1982, so, in 1987, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the 10 provincial premiers met to work out refinements to those arrangements that would satisfy Quebec. They drafted an accord that proposed, among other things, to recognize Quebec as "a distinct society" and to propose a new formula for amending the Constitution Act, 1982. The Meech Lake Accord, however, failed to include any reference to Aboriginal rights. Across Canada, opposition to various points in the accord began to emerge from many groups, but it was an Aboriginal politician who pronounced its death sentence. Elijah Harper stood gravely on the floor of the Manitoba Legislature early in the summer of 1990 and, holding an eagle feather, uttered a simple "no" to a procedural motion. Harper's action ensured that the province could not approve the accord before the required deadline. Meech Lake was dead.

Charlottetown

Photo of Ovide Mercredi, Charlottetown, PE, 1992.

Ovide Mercredi, Charlottetown, PE, 1992.

Native leaders played significant roles in the constitutional debates leading to the Charlottetown Accord.
PARO/PEI (Acc. 4547 S.7 file 39 #11).

The rejection of the Meech Lake Accord precipitated an outburst of nationalist sentiment in Quebec, so the Canadian government went back to work to find another possible compromise. In 1992, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's constitutional point man, Joe Clark, worked with the provincial premiers and Canada's four main national Aboriginal organizations to come up with a proposal that became known as the Charlottetown Accord. Part of the agreement required that this accord be put to Canadians in a national referendum.

The Charlottetown Accord can be interpreted as the first time in Canadian history that Aboriginal peoples were offered a tentative invitation to join Confederation as distinct political constituencies. To underline the idea that Aboriginal governments were based on the principle of the inherent rights of Aboriginal peoples rather than on the basis of some delegated authority, the accord recognized that Aboriginal governments constitute one of three orders of Canadian government. This recognition was qualified with the restriction that all of the acts of Aboriginal governments would have to conform to the provisions of the constitution that vested responsibility for "peace, order and good government" in the authority of the dominion's Parliament.

In the national referendum, a majority of voters in every province except Ontario rejected the constitutional proposal. The document received its highest level of endorsement among the Inuit. Among those Registered Indians whose verdict was counted, the outcome was about 60 per cent against. The rejection of the Charlottetown Accord by a majority of those Indian voters who chose to register their opinion on the document, represented a major defeat for the AFN. The vote demonstrated that a very broad gap separated federally sanctioned and funded Aboriginal organizations at the national level from their grassroots constituency. The outcome also suggested that the legacy of distrust and pessimism among First Nations peoples is so deep-seated and so long-standing that much will be required to build a constituency in Indian Country based on trust and hope in the regenerative powers of Canadian federalism. As Wesley George asserted at a conference in Edmonton in the spring of 1992 on behalf of the Southeast Treaty 4 Tribal Council, "We believe we will never realize our full potential within Canada if we become part of the Canadian Federation."33

Flashpoints in the 1990s

By the mid-1990s, the ineffectiveness and format of the treaty-making process in British Columbia was generating a movement of hard-line resistance. These activists insisted that Indian nations were sovereign entities subject only to international law, not Canadian or provincial jurisdiction. This AIM-inspired group called itself the Ts'peten Defenders. They combined many of the same arguments first brought forward by AIM during the 1970s with allegations that British Columbia had developed outside the imperial constitution of British North America. The key strategist of the self-declared "Defenders" was Splitting The Sky, a Longhouse disciple of Louis Hall and a keen student of Deskaheh's efforts at the League of Nations. He worked closely with Jones Ignace, a Shuswap elder also known as Wolverine. After the Ts'peten Defenders' controversial lawyer, Bruce Clark, was effectively criminalized for his unorthodox defence of his clients, Wolverine was incarcerated for four years for his role in the armed standoff in 1995 at Gustafsen Lake.

Some see Wolverine's lengthy incarceration as one element of an extensive body of evidence indicating that the standoff at Oka in 1990 brought North America's small-scale, smouldering Indian war to Canada. Prominent among the casualties was Dudley George, a peaceful Ojibway protester who was killed in 1995 by an Ontario Provincial Police officer during a non-violent effort to assert First Nations jurisdiction in an Indian burial ground near Ipperwash, Ontario. In the case of the United States v. James Pitawawankwat, the American judiciary apparently adopted the view that the severity of conflict with the First Nations over land and resources has consistently been downplayed and misrepresented. In Portland, Oregon, during the autumn of 2000, Judge Janice Stewart refused the U.S. State Department's request to extradite James Pitawankwat back to Canada. Pitawankwat is a Native veteran of the Battle of Gustafsen Lake. In overruling the executive branch of the U.S. government, this judicial intervention effectively made Canada's Aboriginal policies the subject of American foreign policy.

In her ruling, the Portland judge discussed the struggle undertaken by Pitawankwat's group. She commented, "To characterize the Ts'peten Defenders as engaged in a mere land dispute or disagreement with government policy is to trivialize the nature of the controversy. Control over land is one of the primary reasons for the existence of government and often is the cause of wars between nations. Given its substantial economic consequences, the Aboriginal title question in Canada clearly is a highly charged issue for both native and non-native people." In recognizing the political character of Pitawankwat's convictions in Canada, the judge compared the Canadian government's disputes with First Nations to conflicts between the Israeli government and the Palestinians, the British government and the Irish Republican Army, and the Sri Lankan government and Tamil separatists. She determined that "the Gustafsen Lake incident involved an organized group of Native people rising up in their homeland against the occupation by the government of Canada of their sacred and unceded tribal land." The court found further that "the seriousness of the challenge to Canadian jurisdiction over unceded tribal lands is evidenced by the fact that large military forces were deemed necessary to supress the challenge."

Dozens of other protests flared up to large and small effect during the late 1990s. Off the shores of Burnt Church reserve in New Brunswick, for instance, the waters were alive with acrimony between the contending parties riding in three classes of boats. One of these classes of vessel belonged to Native lobster fishers engaged in what they saw as lawful efforts to realize the ambivalent terms of the Supreme Court's controversial decision in the case brought forward by Donald Marshall Jr. Another class of boats belonged to non-Aboriginal fishers who believed the Native fishers were taking lobster out of season and thereby damaging precious breeding stock. The third class of boats belonged to the Federal Department of Fisheries, whose political masters were determined to show that jurisdiction over the fish resources of Canada's ocean coasts are under the exclusive control of Ottawa.

While many of the demonstrations were directed at non-Aboriginal governments and corporations, another category of protest was directly squarely at Indian men and women. These individuals were accused of abusing the money and political power vested in them by the federal government through the machinery of the Indian Act. Band offices were occupied or blocked by residents looking for explanations of how federal transfer payments to Indian bands were being spent. In reflecting on the $6 billion budget of the federal Indian Affairs ministry, Rita Galloway from Saskatchewan, commented, "No one really knows how the money is actually spent. No one can track where its sic] all going... the Indian Act elected leadership] make investments in the name of the band that are really for them. The chiefs and councillors stand up and make flowery speeches, but its sic] just talk. They have absolute power. They've been handed a blank cheque."34 This surge of political energy from grassroots people demanding some financial accountability from their elected leadership caused the Department of Indian Affairs to move quickly and dramatically to avert scandal. By 1999, over one quarter of all Indian bands were placed under the trusteeship of accounting firms hired by the federal government.

Photo of First Day of School, Shamattawa Reserve, MB, 1976.

First Day of School, Shamattawa Reserve, MB, 1976.

The complexities of managing reserve finances created a need for external auditors. This new scrutiny challenged the authority of the band administration on issues ranging from education and transportation to salaries paid to band officials.
UM (PC 18, 18-2933-18).

Unfortunately, the arrival of accounting firms, institutions answerable ultimately not to those First Nations citizens who pushed for the forensic studies but to federal officials, undermined Ottawa's stated aim of advancing Aboriginal self-government. As Tina Fox of the Morley reserve commented, "Our elders say we've been taken right back to the Indian Agent days." Similarly, journalist Gordon Liard editorialized, "When trouble hits the government drops its pretense of partnership and institutes policies and reforms that insulate it from scandal."35

Sporadic attempts were made in the late 1990s to piece together some kind of larger movement or common front from those dissenting voices in Indian Country that viewed the whole regime of the Indian Act as a recipe for cultivating petty corruption, lack of accountability, and dictatorial exercises of power. In the name of self-government, said Rita Galloway, the chief and council of many Indian bands have become "a law unto themselves." When allegations are made that these local elites break the law, Galloway added, the police reply, "these people are the law here. What can we do?"36

Individual and minority rights were being left largely unprotected within the narrow jurisdictional confines of Indian reserves. "The reserves are dominated by power structures. There are no checks and balances," said Okanagan author Jeanette Armstrong.38 Similarly, in the 1970s and 1980s, Everett Soop's cartoons and editorials helped to transform his local Blood newspaper, Kanai News, into a very important publication with a wide audience scattered throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe. Soop's use of humour and satire to challenge orthodoxy and uncover dishonesty serves as a powerful reminder of the many media available to those legions of thinkers, workers, politicians, and artists who have contributed to the rich heritage of Native activism in Canada.

Photo of Protest in Support of Wounded Knee, Toronto, ON, 1973.

Protest in Support of Wounded Knee, Toronto, ON, 1973.

Canadian activists show their support for the American Indian Movement's (AIM) standoff with the American government at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
AO (C 193-3-275, 73113, neg. 12).

Written By

Anthony J. Hall
Professor of Globalization Studies
University of Lethbridge

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