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COMMENTARY · 6th January 2013
Merv Ritchie
Conservative Indian Senator Patrick Brazeau revealed astounding ignorance of his own heritage during a CBC interview on Sunday January 6, 2013. Using the recent Hockey strike and lockout as an analogy it is apparent his lack of comprehension has no limits.

Many Canadians desire to understand the issues, but as the Harper appointed token demonstrated, even supposedly important Indians do not understand. This composition then is an attempt in a few short paragraphs to inform. We are sure to miss some details and others will attempt to correct minor points. Due to the sensitive nature of this discussion and the emotional issues connected to it we note at the outset this is intended to be brief and provide only a foundational understanding. Something Mr Brazeau clearly does not have.

We will break this down into basic chunks; Treaty Lands, un-ceded Territory and Reserves. We will also address some differences in living on and off reserve and the Indian Act. We will begin by addressing the different Indian leadership issues. What we will not attempt to address is what defines “status and non-status”.

Indian Leadership

The current dilemma being faced today is the elected Chief of an Indian Reserve, Chief Teresa Spence, is on a hunger strike demanding a meeting with the Prime Minister. She, as well as all elected Reserve Chiefs, can only represent their Indian Reserve Villages. They do not and cannot speak for any other Indian. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is an organization populated by these Chiefs only. And only the elected Chiefs of Reserve Villages can vote for their “Grand Chief”, who today is Shawn Atleo. Therefore, neither an elected Chief nor the AFN can speak for Indians as a whole. In fact it was not until the year 2000 when Indians who did not live within the confines of a reserve, were even able to vote for their Chief and council.

The “Idle No More” protest gatherings have absolutely nothing to do with these leaders. These protesters, both indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, are standing up against the Canadian Government Bill C45 which is an offense to all.

The elected Indian Reserve Chiefs and the AFN Leadership are generally as autocratic as the Harper Government. They may be seen as backing Idle No More but in no way should Canadians consider these elected Chiefs as leading the movement.

Treaty Lands

Treaty Lands are the basic original Indian Lands the British Colonial Government and the Canadian Government signed deals with the Indians to resolve differences. Just like the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the Great War and other treaties across the globe these are internationally recognized obligations. Under international law the Canadian Government is obligated to respect these treaties. These Treaties were made with Nations. The leaders of an Indian Nation would sit with the representatives of Britain or Canada and negotiate a Treaty.

There are 70 recognized Treaty agreements. The eleven numbered treaties are those made specifically with the Canadian Government after confederation. The rest were with the Crown of England. Treaty 8 for example covers the northeast corner of BC along with the northern half of Alberta into Saskatchewan and the NWT. The BC Government refused to even consider Indians as owners of their lands until the Supreme Court of Canada held they did in the 1990’s.

Before BC became a Province the British Colonial Governor, James Douglas, followed the directives of the Crown of England, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, ordering all Indian Lands must be settled by treaty. It was an order due to the settlers and industrialist abusing the Indian peoples. King George III was outraged and issued this order to protect the original inhabitants of the land his people wished to utilize.

We must not forget our history. The Beothuk from Newfoundland were hunted like dogs and exterminated. We were a cruel lot.

Douglas made treaties on Vancouver Island and until the Nisga’a Treaty no other land dispute in BC, except Treaty 8, was ever settled.

Un-ceded Territory

Unlike the rest of Canada, British Columbia has failed to negotiate the sale or settlement of the Indian Lands. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 is still in full effect, and has been upheld in law, though not widely respected by the Canadian and British Columbian Governments. Except for small pockets of land on Vancouver Island, Treaty 8 and the modern day treaties such as the Nisga’a Treaty, almost all of the Province of BC is legally owned by the original inhabitants. This is what is meant by un-ceded territory.


According to the signed treaty documents, the British Crown, and subsequently the Canadian Government was obligated to ensure the well being of the Indians on the treaty territories. Each Treaty has differences but the over riding commonality is; the Territories the Indians have specific rights to, and the obligation the Crown had to protect these lands and the safety, health and security of the Indian peoples. To accomplish this task the Canadian Government determined to set aside specific Reserves for the Indians to live so they could manage the administration of the Indians they agreed by Treaty to care for. The Government did not work with the Nations they signed the treaty with to accomplish this.

The British Columbia Government then determined to do the same thing and were met with opposition as the Indian Nations all stood on their claim they still owned all their land.

The Canadian population then came to understand the only land the Indians had rights to were the Reserve Villages when in fact the treaties specified something much greater. And again, Canadians (including some Indians) came to believe a Reserve Village was a Nation unto itself.

The residential school system imposed an entirely new set of issues. It can be argued this was an attempt by the government to help the Indians manage their own affairs by education or indoctrination but the evidence was, as well as the acknowledgement by the Canadian Government, it was a system designed to abuse the Indian peoples further.

This was a specific concern of King George III when he issued the 1763 Royal Proclamation.

Today the Reserves are run and managed with the Indian Act through what was formerly known as the DIA (Department of Indian Affairs), then INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) and now AANDC (Aboriginal And Northern Affairs Canada). Under the DIA the Reserve Villages were run by a local Indian Agent who managed the administrative functions. As Indians graduated from Residential schools the local Indian Agent could appoint a successful Indian to take over. In Band Elections the Agent always had the final say. Therefore the Band Chiefs and Councils learned to appease the Indian Agent. As only those who lived on reserves could vote, the Chief and Council could reward and punish those who did not agree with their policies. Living on a reserve required the permission of the Council, which has led to a condition today where particular family lineages control all aspects of Reserve life.

Living Off and On Reserve and the Indian Act

The Indian Act and the benefits of the Indian Act apply more generally to those living “On Reserve”. As was stated earlier those who lived “Off Reserve” could not even vote in a Band Election until the year 2000. All of the tax and health benefits are only applicable if one lives on a reserve. Housing on a reserve is applied for and can be provided or denied without any reason.

If a Band Council did not wish to support any person they could deny almost any right. It was not until June of last year, 2011, when an Indian Person was even able to take out a legal action claiming their human right was being denied.

The true benefit of the Indian Act is for those Indians who do not live on the reserve, or who have fallen out of favour with the ruling families. It is the only legal document they have to protect themselves against their own people who act as if they are dictators. It also protects all Indians against the Canadian Government itself as it reflects the intentions of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Without the Indian Act, a government like Harper's can arbitrarily remove all rights and privileges.

Therefore, all of the elected Indian Chiefs today, including Teresa Spence, have been living in a bubble of protected autocracy most independent thinking people, those of knowledge and ability would refuse to live under.

Only those who can benefit from being on the inside; and those who are truly incapable of caring for themselves, would live within the confines and prescriptions of Reserve life.

The Conclusion

It is the leaders of this group of people who select and elect the representatives to the AFN. These elected chiefs of the virtually autocratic reserves then elect their representative leader, who today is Shawn Atleo.

None of these people speak on behalf of or in any way represent the majority of the Indian people of Canada.

There are Treaty Nation Groups who represent all of the people who belong to their Nation such as the Cree Nation of Treaty 6 regardless of whether they live “On Reserve” or “Off Reserve”.

Today Indians and Canadians need to fully comprehend the intricate complexities of this situation the Canadian Government has created for themselves after more than 100 years of law making without respecting their treaty obligations.

From the forbiddance of their culture, the abduction of their children, the imposition of reserves to the abrogation of internationally recognized treaties, the tolerance the Indian people have displayed is remarkable.

Reserve Villages in British Columbia such as the Tsimshian Nation’s Kitsumkalum Reserve Village and the Haisla Nation Reserve Village of Kitamaat have even taken to referring to themselves as independent Nations adding more confusion to the mix.

As elected reserve Chief Spence and the other elected reserve Chiefs gather with their combined reserve spokesman “Grand Chief” Atleo, the real Indians of the Nations involved will be standing back in horror. It will be almost as if their children are being ripped out of their arms again; being forced into servitude and compliance by a complicit group of Indians who once again, like the masters of the reserves want, to control the future of those who have chosen to not live in their compounds.

And compounds they can be. Kitsumkalum is now affectionately referred to as the Kitsumkalum Killerwhale Kompound (KKK), as the ruling family are all descendents of one of the four clans; Wolf, Eagle, Raven and Killerwhale. As they negotiate a Treaty with BC they have given up all the other Clans traditional territory stating they could make a plaque in commemoration of the others territories.

Senator Brazeau compared the difficulties the Idle No More movement and the Hunger strike of Spence to the NHL contract dispute. It is a sad state of affairs if this is the type of knowledge and understanding the Canadian Government and their representatives have today regarding the History of Canada and the Indian treaties considering the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the disastrous policies of the 1900’s. He, like other many other Canadians believe the issue is simply addressing the Indian leader who represents the AFN.

"As far as my Nation is concerned” wrote Cree Nation Chief from Treaty 6, “we have not given [the] AFN any mandate to speak for Treaty Peoples, we need to speak for ourselves. We are encouraged that Chief Spence has sacrificed herself for her Peoples. For her life and commitment, we give her our best regards and will continue to keep her in our prayers.”

The Idle No More Movement has nothing to do with Spence and Atleo; and Atleo and Spence have nothing to do with the Idle No More movement. It is an issue which has a much larger context. Atleo was not elected by any Indian Nation to represent any issue.

As the Canadian population watch and listen to the news this week they may be perplexed by some of the issues raised outside of Spence’s Tipi. I hope I have provided, with this short essay, introductions to perspectives the reader has not considered. Equally, I hope I have not confused the issue. To those who take offense at one or another statement, please understand the writing is to inform only not to be an authority.

Video Clips attached below.

Read more on the Unique Indian Leadership in the NW of BC here

Thank You for the history lesson
Comment by Phil Neathway on 13th January 2013
Your article is the first one I have ever read that explains the Proclamation and how treaties work. This should have been taught in schools as a history subject instead of American history. Being non-aboriginal (although an ancestor was supposed to be Passamaquoddy, the only aboriginals in North America who can't get status) it has been difficult to understand and comprehend the issues that the Native people have to endure because of what we were taught and told. Sometimes I'm ashamed to be a Canadian because of the rhetoric, bias and redneck remarks I have seen and heard. I have found many friends in N.B. who are aboriginal and better friends I have never had. What saddens me is to see the infighting among the aboriginal peoples.
Further Comments on Nations and Treaty Nations
Comment by Merv Ritchie on 7th January 2013
Enbridge claims they have signed 30 protocol agreements with First Nations within 80 kilometers of the pipeline route. They claim 10 BC First Nations in this list. This must mean they too consider a reserve village band council a Nation.

There are only 4 Nations within 80 kilometers of the proposed path in BC; the Haisla Nation, the Tsimshian Nation, the Wet’suwet’en Nation and the Carrier Nation. The lands east of the Rockies (and arguably includes some Sekani peoples up to the peaks of the Omineca Range) are covered by Treaty 8 signatory Nations.

Therefore we must conclude Enbridge is attempting to claim Band Councils are Nations unto themselves such as the Tl’ast’en west of Edmonton (Treaty 6). Enbridge lists two bands on their website they have signed an agreement with or provided funding to; the Ye Kooche Band and the Tl’azt’en, both Sekani Nation Bands not part of Treaty 8. Each of these reserve Bands claim a significant part of the same territory. One belongs to the larger Sekani Tribal Council and the other reserve group remains independent.

The divisive manner Enbridge is employing here was also employed to divide the Gitxsan peoples with an agreement they signed with Elmer Derrick. The BC Government along with BCUC employed similar tactics to destroy the unity of the Haisla and their traditional hereditary authority. The BC treaty Commission process continues to divide the Tsimshian Nation with the Incremental Treaty Process (ITP) and they continue to fund the Gitxsan Treaty Society, which has been deemed to be operating illegally by the courts and was ordered by a majority of Chiefs to cease representing the Gitxsan. The Tsimshian were a United people before BC Premier Gordon Campbell started the ITP and used TFL’s (Tree Farm Licences) and the fishing rights to create internal divisions.

It is only reasonable to consider the severe harm caused to these Indian peoples by the actions of the Provincial and Canadian Governments along with the Residential Schools will require serious reparations and efforts to rebuild strength and ability of the true leaders to properly negotiate in good faith and with due diligence on behalf all parties.

Signing a deal with a reserve Village Band Council is trickery and subterfuge. Funding opposing parties within a Nation is facilitating dissention within the Nations; essentially creating rebel armies within sovereign Nations. The people of Canada should be above such tactics.

As we have written before, the apology delivered by Stephen Harper is akin to someone stealing your car then driving it to your place to say he was sorry, then getting back into the car and driving away.
Good summary.
Comment by Helmut Giesbrecht on 6th January 2013
Some of these points are being raised by various panel members on the TV networks. I have noticed in the discussions on the internet that there is a clear attempt to link Chief Spence with the Idlenomore Movement. I appears to me that there is an attempt by some of the leaders to try to get in front of the movement so as to give the impression that they are leading it. There is real danger in letting them do that. It would play right into the hands of the PM.

It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.
And yes, it is clearly more complex and diverse
Comment by Merv Ritchie on 6th January 2013
The point is a meeting with Spence will not resolve these long standing issues and Prime Minister Harper will not resolve them. Only by attempting to get all Canadians engaged, by beginning to see the various positions and aspects involved, will we as a people be able to encourage our leaders to do the right thing.

There is no one simple answer to address a multitude of situations faced by numerous Nations.

The first step is to protect the land so when a resolution is found there is still something valuable.

And to protect the land and water the measure proposed by Bill C45 must be stopped.

And that is what the Idle No More movement is really about.