The Proclamation recognized the basis for relations between the Crown and its subjects with the Indigenous peoples of North America. This included the prohibition against subjects of the British Crown encroaching on those lands designated as those of the Indigenous peoples. The Proclamation also states that only the British Crown can negotiate treaties to acquire land from the Indigenous peoples. It also states that the process for establishing such treaties must be done publicly to so as to ensure that the "great Frauds and Abuses [...] committed in the purchasing Lands of the Indians" that had been occurring, considered contrary to the interests of the Crown and the Indigenous peoples, were prevented in future. This Royal Proclamation was included in the Constitution Act 1982 when the Constitution Act 1867 was repatriated.
The website of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, in acknowledging the 250th anniversary, states that the Proclamation "redefined the Crown-First Nations relationship, established the treaty-making process and recognized First Nations rights in Canada." However, it says nothing about the reality of what the government is actually doing today, namely the opposite of what is written in the Proclamation or interpreting it for self-serving purposes. The Indigenous peoples point out that whatever recognition of their sovereignty is enshrined in the Proclamation has been rendered null and void in the present era by the continued colonial practices of the Canadian government, most recently the Harper dictatorship as shown in its omnibus legislation Bill C-45 and other bills attacking the rights of First Nations. The Harperites aim is to support monopoly right by extinguishing the hereditary, constitutional and treaty rights of Indigenous peoples. It refuses to develop nation-to-nation relations of mutual respect and benefit, as established originally in the Two Row Wampum.
The attacks on the rights of Indigenous peoples are part of attacking the modern conception of rights, namely that rights are inherent and belong to people by virtue of their being human, and that specific hereditary rights belong to the Indigenous peoples because of their being. The Canadian government in the recent period is trying to dismiss the historic and unresolved issues brought forward by the Indigenous peoples as "special interests" of just another "ethnic group" that are part of a "diverse" Canada. This is contemptible and nothing could be further from the truth. The questions of rights and nation-to-nation relations brought forward by the Indigenous peoples for solution are fundamental to modernizing and renewing the social and political arrangements in Canada and are of concern to the entire polity. The slogan "Our Future Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All" is confirmed by the broad support of the Canadian polity for the widespread actions by Indigenous peoples in the last year.
TML is posting below photos and a report from the October 7 action in Gatineau as well as photos from around the country and abroad.
First Nations leaders and activists gathered at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec. Speakers pointed out that the anniversary of the Proclamation was not cause for celebration.
The first speaker was Claudette Commanda from the Algonquin Nation, whose traditional territory includes the Gatineau/Ottawa area. She said:
"I cannot celebrate colonialism. I cannot. It is said that the Royal Proclamation is the Magna Carta of rights for First Nations. I as Anishnabe Kwe, I cannot see that. I cannot. In 1763 it was pretty clear that the governments of the country of France and the country of England, they recognized First Nations, the original people commonly known as Indians, as nations. As sovereign nations. They had to. Otherwise, treaties or agreements would never have been entered into. So, we went from being nations, to the creations of federal wards of the Crown. That's not sovereignty. Because if the Royal Proclamation truly, indeed, recognizes First Nations as sovereign nations then why have we been displaced from our lands and natural resources? Why? Why were we placed as wards of the Crown? Why were we placed under the Indian Act? Why? The Royal Proclamation says that you have to enter into this treaty between the First Nations and the colonists that became the settlers, and eventually Immigration Canada. It was all for the purpose of needing land for settlement. But at the expense of Indian people and our lands.
"If Canada is truly, indeed, genuine and honest about forging a new relationship with First Nations and building reconciliation, it must be always by the guidance, by the voice of First Nations. We must be included and it must be done our way. Our way, our way, and no other way. We need to do this for our children. When our ancestors walked this land, every decision they made, they made the decision for seven generations, because that is one of our fundamental teachings and laws of the creator: to always honour and respect and remember seven generations that are not here. And they did so for us. That is why we are here today. So, today, my responsibility is for the children and the ancestors that are not here yet. Because in seven generations from now there will be children and there will be ancestors. We must always remember that, because it is called the circle of life.
"They talk about treaties, treaty-making. We know the difference between the Peace and Friendship Treaties, the pre-Confederation treaties, the historic treaties, and there's certainly a big difference with what are called the 'modern-day treaties.' It is not the same. It is very concerning [regarding] one of the important responsibilities of my grandfather William Commanda. And what he said is 'Protect the land, protect the land, protect the land.' Protect it. We need the land. It is who we are as Anishnabeg regardless of what nation we come from. We need the land for these children. It is their birthright. We need the land for our grandmothers. Our mothers. Our grandfathers. Our fathers. We need the land. Mother earth -- it is her responsibility to provide for us, and we must protect her. Without land, we are nothing.
"We cannot trade these lands, we cannot trade away these lands. And I, as an Algonquin person will not, will never, will never, agree to a treaty of my land, my ancestral land of my ancestors! How can you sell the bones of your ancestors? Never, never, never! We must protect our ancestors. We must protect the children. We must protect the land. Modern-day treaty is not a way for First Nations people to gain their rightful place in society. We don't need treaties. What we need is to be important, fundamental decision-makers, equal partners, in revenue sharing and resource sharing. We can gain that without treaties. Do you agree with me? [Crowd agrees.] Absolutely. That is our way. Land -- protect that land.
"I respect the various nations. I respect their diversity. I respect what they need to do in order to continue to survive. However, I cannot accept one model for all that is going to be applied to us. I cannot accept that. I have a great responsibility as an Anishnabe Kwe, as an Algonquin woman, as a mother and a grandmother. I have a great responsibility to protect this land. I have a responsibility to raise the awareness that modern-day treaty is not the way to go. Absolutely not. And the Royal Proclamation cannot be celebrated as something that was so honourable and given to First Nations. It cannot be celebrated that way, absolutely not. And that is one lesson that I learned from my grandfather when he was a Chief, when he carried that title as Chief. And when he held his hereditary role as Chief, he said we can never celebrate colonialism. Because those laws, through the Royal Proclamation, through the Constitutions, those were government laws, man-made laws.
"We must first and foremost always uphold the great law of the Creator. Always. And when we look at those historic treaties, not the modern-day treaties but historic treaties, those treaties have to be honoured and recognized for those nations that did enter into treaties between themselves, the First Nations, and the settler nations. Those treaties are higher than any Canadian law. It is imperial law, and they have to be honoured and recognized. And it was not about surrendering their land, or surrendering title to their land. It was about co-existence and sharing. That's what it was about. And that's what we have to educate Canadians about. But when we look at today, today's campaign for modern-day treaty-making, it is about surrendering the land. It is about extinguishment. And we cannot extinguish the land. Because if we extinguish the land, then we are extinguishing ourselves as human beings. We cannot do that. Absolutely not. And we are not upholding our great law and responsibility to the earth, our mother.
"So all of you First Nations people, Aboriginal peoples, Canadians: we are all brothers and sisters in this. And we need to come together to raise that awareness. And always remember, that the First Nations people, we shared, we have been sharing since 1492. And in our great creation stories, it's about coexistence. About respecting life and human beings, respecting mother earth. We share. We absolutely shared our land, we shared our ways to keep the European people alive. And we must continue to share. We have been sharing, now it's time that Canadians share with us. Share your understanding with us. Share your energy, and share the fight to continue to protect Mother Earth and that our land, the Anishnabe-Aki, will continue to be what it is, free, free land. We do not need treaties, modern-day treaties. We need free land that's going to be held in trust for our children and by our children. Chi miigwetch. Thank you very much."
The next speaker was Andrea Landry, an Ottawa activist originally from Pays Plat First Nation, located on the north shore of Lake Superior. She said:
"When I first heard people were celebrating, that this was an anniversary, an anniversary of putting ownership to land, of commodifying our culture and our territories, and anniversary of desecrating our traditional livelihood as indigenous peoples, I became confused. Commodification of land is not our way. The desecration of our traditional livelihoods will not allow a sustainable future for our people, for our younger generations, for our future generations. To me, it's not about celebrating, it's not about the anniversary of a document. It's about honouring and recognizing what this land truly deserves, that we stand on, that we walk on, what we live on. That those bodies of waters deserve, what those women in our communities who honour those bodies of water deserve. What our children in the next generations will deserve when there's no more water for them to drink. When there's no more land for them to hunt on. When there's no more traplines that will be recognized in their territory.
"It's a matter of recognizing the importance of this land, of no longer enslaving that land with the commodification, with the dollars, with the documents. Yes, we have these documents. But we see them sitting on shelves and collecting dust. We can walk into boardrooms, have meetings with the Prime Minister, have meetings with Members of Parliament, have meetings with MLAs. And we're doing it in their settings. We're following their rules. So when we walk into those offices and we speak our truths, our truths are not being recognized. And that has occurred since colonization occurred on this so-called territory of Canada. It's a matter of having it with our own ways, with our own communities, with ceremony. Because when you look at our people, when you look at our territories, when you come to our First Nations communities, you see the beauty of our people. You see that we do not want to put a price on our territories. We do not want to put dollars on our land. We do not want a document to rectify and recognize that this is our land. The reality is: we do not and cannot own our lands. If we say we own our land, that's like saying we own an individual, we own a child, we own a person. That's enslavement right there. So why are we having these discussions of saying, 'I own this land'? They want to own this land. It's not about ownership, it's about living with the land, breathing with the land. and recognizing our inherent rights, our traditional livelihoods, our ways of life and living.
"So with the Royal Proclamation, I'd like to see the discussion change. I would like to see people really recognizing what it's all about. I would like to see Canadians having open minds and realizing why it's important that indigenous people are involved in all these discussions. Why indigenous peoples are holding these meetings on their traditional territories. No longer do I want my people going into the colonial buildings and having these conversations. If we're discussing the land, it should be held on the land that we're having the conversations about. We need to get rid of these ways. We need to get rid of the colonial ways of doing a meeting. We talk about decolonization, but me, myself, as an indigenous person, I will never say I need to decolonize. Because when I'm home, I'm not colonized. When I'm home, I'm living my ways, I'm living my ways. When I'm home, I'm learning my language, and when I'm in the city, I am finding ways to remain true to my roots as an Anishnabe Kwe.
"It's up to the Canadians to join these conversations of decolonization, to really recognize why it's important that they need to decolonize, that they need to know the history. [...] The big corporations want to own the land. We need to get rid of that concept. We need to get rid of those discussions."
Tony Belcourt, Métis Rights activist and leader spoke, saying he appreciated the opportunity for Idle No More to bring together all the indigenous people, Métis, First Nations and Inuit:
"If it weren't for the Royal Proclamation of 1763, I don't know that we would have the historic treaties. But it's a fact, because of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 British Subjects were under the rule of law that they could not enter into the territory of the Aboriginal peoples without their consent. That had to bring about some kind of an agreement. Those agreements rested on the historic treaties. For the Métis people, the important thing today is that that very principle was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2003, in our Métis hunting rights case. What the Supreme Court of Canada said was that because the Métis people were blocked from participating in the Robinson Superior Treaty in 1850, our rights were never extinguished, and therefore our rights are still existing, they are still constitutional rights. And the Métis right to hunt and fish for food was an existing right and it is now allowed for our people to go out and get their traditional foods without having to hunt at night and in danger. If our existing rights to hunt and fish for food were not extinguished, what other rights were not extinguished? None of them. In the case of Riel and his people in 1869/1870 in Red River, when Sir John A. MacDonald sent out a governor and some surveyors to govern the land because the Hudson's Bay Company sold it to Great Britain for a million bucks and Canada was going to buy it back, Riel and his people stood on their chains and said, 'You go no further. You have no right to be here.' Sir John A. MacDonald wanted to send out troops, but first, he was still under the laws of the imperial Parliament in Great Britain. What he had to do was get consent from Great Britain before he could move. And Great Britain said, 'No. You do not have the right because you have not entered into agreements with the First Peoples in that territory.' It's a territory that's huge. All of the waters that flow into James Bay and Hudson's Bay. That's the whole territory of Rupert's Land, that's what was at stake. Riel and his people entered into negotiations for a treaty for the Métis people, but one of the things he said is that you cannot just have a treaty with us, you have to have a treaty with the full-bloods. And as a result of that, every numbered treaty took place. [...] Treaties are a two-way street. Canadians have an obligation to understand their obligations. They can't just pick and choose what it is they like about the law, or they don't like about the law. [...] If the laws are there, they're there for everybody. Now is the time for all of us, and this Idle No More movement gives us the opportunity, to work towards a new partnership. A new partnership that First Peoples and Canadians can develop based on mutual understanding, mutual respect and equality."
Patrick Etherington, an activist who supported Chief Theresa Spence on Victoria Island during her 44-day fast, said he walked this summer from Cochrane, Ontario to Alberta for treaty rights and for the government to "keep their word." He said:
"We chose to walk away from Ottawa, we didn't want to walk to Ottawa. We wanted to go to where real power was, the people. So we chose not to walk to a building, we chose to walk to the mountains. [...] In the Constitution, our treaty rights are supposed to be honoured, but that's not the case really. That's just writing on a piece of paper to them, I guess. And now, the Idle No More movement and everything that's going on across the country, I think that the government should actually start listening." He noted that "Everything has been said. It's time for action now."
Brock Lewis, an activist and Cultural Ambassador who hails from unceded Wikwemikong territory on Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron, brought up the example of Shingwaukonse, a hereditary Anishnabe chief who was a signatory to the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850. Shingwaukonse was asked to fight in 1812 return for land given by the British. He bought alongside Tecumseh and Isaac Brock. Lewis pointed out:
"In the late 1840's, Canada
was giving away lumber leases and mining
leases in [Shingwaukonse's] territory. In the mines about an hour away
from Sioux Ste. Marie he could hear explosions. [...] Him and a few
other people they walked to Montreal. [...] When he walked there, to
Montreal, he asked the government
why they were giving away all these leases to the mining and lumber
companies. And the government simply shooed him away, just like they
did with Idle No More, just like they did with the Nishiyuu Walkers.
[...] When he went back home, he decided to take action for himself.
And what he did, he went to those
mining companies with an armed group, and he said 'You're not supposed
to be here. This is my land. It was given to me after that war that I
was in, for being in friendship, so please leave.' And they left. And
then the next day he was arrested. He was sent to Toronto. After that,
he pleaded for a treaty, he knew
that it was important to have his own land because that Royal
Proclamation didn't mean anything. [...] He pleaded for a treaty, and
in 1850 he finally got it. Shingwaukonse, among 17 other chiefs along
the northern coast of Lake Huron all signed a treaty for an individual
piece of land. His was 8 x 12 miles long.
There are others 3 x 6. And they all have a little section. And then in
between there, it was all sold. Basically, the King said. 'I thank you
for being in the war and I thank you for everything that you have done,
but there's nothing I can do about the land that was sold.' I just want
to recognize the history behind
him, and the history that I stand for. Because he did a whole lot, for
me, and for all of you here today. It shows me that you're able to
stand for what you want. It shows me that it's not just him in this
battle, it's a lot of us that all need to stand together and unite."
Elsipogtog First Nation, New Brunswick
Barriere Lake, Quebec
La Ronge, Saskatchewan; Lethbridge, Alberta
Oklahoma City, United States
(Photos: TML, Idle No More, Two Row Times, R. Nottaway, M. Kannon, E.V. Lee, H. Michell, A. Tailfeathers, C. Bobb, G. Shwulsilum, Platform London)
UN Special Rapporteur on Rights of