The Contemporary relevance of the Historical Treaties to Treaty Indian peoples

On the day after the Trudeau government revealed its five-point plan for a renewed relationship with First Nations, is pleased to announce the publication of Leon Crane Bear’s “The Contemporary relevance of the Historical Treaties to Treaty Indian peoples”

By Leon Crane Bear

In June of 1969, the federal government announced its Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy (hereafter, the White Paper), which proposed to end discrimination against Indians and to assimilate them into the Canadian body politic. The White Paper recommended the abolishment of all legal recognition of registered Indians within federal legislation including the legal status of Indians, repeal the Indian Act, and the end of treaties. In 1970, in response to the White Paper, the Chiefs of the Indian Association of Alberta (hereafter, the IAA) produced a counter document titled Citizens Plus: the Red Paper (hereafter, the Red Paper). This essay explores the frictional dynamics of the White Paper and Red Paper including their respective intent and outcomes. The radical difference in intent and vision between these two documents may be understood today as a major catalyst for a changed relationship between the two parties. That is, the issues of assimilation and the legal recognition of treaties were central to national discussion over 45 years ago and, because these issues are not settled, these issues are largely relevant today. Historical treaties are important to First Nations people as embodied in the content of the Red Paper, and treaty Indians, like myself, continue to see the treaties as significant to our contemporary relationship with the state.

The Red Paper was an act of resistance by the IAA that was predicated on two key points: first, the Red Paper emphasized the treaty connection between First Nations people and the federal government; second, the Red Paper articulated a model of “self-governance” that reinforced an Indigenous perspective.[1] Moreover, the Red Paper was generated by mutual cooperation between Indigenous leaders and members of Indigenous communities in Alberta. The key concepts of treaties and “self-sufficiency” were evident in both documents. This essay determines the essence of those differences by arguing that the differences in views, in the political significance, as well as the emergence of Indigenous community opposition with regard to the legal status of Indians, treaties, and lands is worth understanding for contemporary citizens. This comparative analysis shows that in 1970, the IAA regarded the historical treaties as sacred agreements and yet, as I imply, treaties have never lost relevance for treaty Indian people in contemporary Alberta. [Read More]

Leon Crane Bear is Siksika (Blackfoot) and is a treaty Indian. Siksika is in Southern Alberta, and is part of five First Nation’s who signed Treaty 7 in 1877. He recently received, in October 2015, his Master of Arts degree from the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta.

Editors Note: This is the penultimate essay published as part of our papers section. A new “Features” section will begin in early-2016. This section will share many commonalities with the former Papers Section (including hosting all of the papers we’ve published over the years) while accommodating additional resources such as our series and theme weeks.

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