The Joint Parliamentary Committee, inspired by the American example and continuing problems in British Columbia and at Oka in Quebec, first put forward the idea of an Indian claims commission in 1961. It was not until 1969, however, in the wake of the furor over the White Paper, that the commission became a reality. Dr. Lloyd Barber, Vice-President of the University of Saskatchewan, was appointed as Indian claims commissioner and empowered to accept and evaluate Indian grievances to determine the means by which they might most successfully be resolved.

Initially, the idea of Aboriginal rights was excluded from the commission's jurisdiction, a not surprising circumstance in light of the government's White Paper and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's stated opposition to special rights. This point aggravated Native opinion, although the government eventually relented. The expansion of the commission's mandate to include comprehensive claims in addition to the more specific claims arising from treaty violations or non-fulfillment of terms indicated a significant shift. This redirection permitted the consideration of Aboriginal rights, although it was not officially identified as such until the Calder case established the legal validity of these rights.

The commission lasted only until 1977, but, in the end, won the support of some Indian rights activists, including Harold Cardinal, because of the widely recognized open-mindedness and fairness displayed by Commissioner Barber. The impact of the commission, however, was limited. The final report stressed the importance of Natives taking a leading role in establishing and claiming their rights, a process that would require Natives to research their own positions and to minimize reliance on outside assistance. This recommendation would support both the funding of Native inquiries and the employment of Natives in the work involved. But the Indian Claims Commission was unable to determine the best way to resolve claims or to establish principles to guide the resolution process. Nor was it able to devise an appropriate structure to deal with them. Such a mechanism has yet to be developed.

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Chinook Multimedia

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