DRUMBEAT: The Unworkable Claims process...


"When agreements to resolve traty-land entitlement were finally reached in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the current [Ed. note: 1989] government saw fit to repudiate them unilaterally. In this context the utility of even negotiating with the Crown is called into question. Although "certainty" is a concept that preoccupies the government lawyers, there is no certainty that the Crown will fulfil its commitments.



In these and many other ways, the federal government has blocked progress at the negotiating table, and in a bullying and defiant way has challenged First Nations to go to court if we do not like what we are offered, even though they know that aboriginal people do not have the resources to fight long legal battles. The Gitskan Wet'suwet'en court case ... illustrates the difficulties of this route. Two other examples are pertinent: after the Teme-Augama Anishnabai managed, in 1973, to impose a land caution over 110 townships in Northern Ontario, asserting aboriginal ownership, the Ontario government changed the legislation to preclude other First Nations from using the same tactic. Ten years later, when the Lubicon went to court to try for the same thing, the Alberta government retroactively changed the legislation to insure that the band's action would fail. (These same tactics have been used by the South African apartheid government to deny the rights of Africans.)



Similarly, in 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed the right of Mi'kmaq Indians to hunt under a treaty of 1752, which the court declared to be in effect. Yet, in 1988, in defiance of that ruling, provincial game officers arrested and charged thriteen Mi'kmaq who were hunting outside the provincial hunting season, and have vowed to continue to prosecute Mi'kmaq citizens who exercise their rights.



In our view the Mi'maq case should have provided an opportunity for the federal government to begin bilateral negotiations with our people to redefine the terms of many of the old treaties. Instead, the government has chosen to ignore it. Even more absurdly, the minister has acted as if the treaty was with J.M. Simon (the Mi'kmaq who won the case) and not with all Mi'kmaqs. According to this reasoning, every Mi'kmaq would have to go to court to prove that he is descended from those who signed the 1752 treaty. This is the attitude of a federal government that is supposed to be there to protect the rights of aboriginal people.



These are only a few of the anomalies that have made the claims process unworkable."



Georges Erasmus, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations, as quoted in "DRUMBEAT: Anger And Renewal In Indian Country" (ISBN 0-9299091-03-5) (Reprinted without permission)