As minister for Manitoba Hydro 40 years ago, Green was opposed to the Northern Flood Agreement because he thought Ottawa was going too far in its willingness to negotiate with Indian bands and provide for compensation.
This week, Green showed his thinking hasn't changed when he argued that Indian people should either accept their place as citizens or "be made to realize" Canada treats foreigners differently than its own citizens. I guess he wants us to either fall in line or be treated as if we were residents of Norway, Zambia or Kazakhstan.
It's tempting to say "good point, Sid." Our First Nations probably would be better off if the Canadian government dealt with them through the Department of Foreign Affairs rather than Indian and Northern Affairs.
I don't think that making First Nations eligible for Foreign Affairs assistance, however, was what Green had in mind when he delivered his scolding to blockade participants. His thinking was more along the lines of shape up or ship out. Sorry Sid, but it's hard for us Indians to ship out when we never "shipped in" to begin with.
The treaties never provided for assimilation. Instead, they provided a perpetual plan for how generations of Indians would live after Canada was allowed to acquire specific types of jurisdiction over land. Treaty rights have been interpreted through court decisions and will continue to broaden as the courts force Canada to live up to its obligations.
Two important points need to be made. One is that Indians never surrendered the resources; the treaties only applied to a plow's depth of soil. The second is that the federal government's decision in 1930 to transfer control of resources to the provinces violates the treaties.
At the heart of every blockade or similar action taken are the issues of treaty rights and resource use. Canada offers two frameworks for influencing government decisions. One is through political systems, but Indian reserves are spread out across the province and country in a way that prevents us from having significant, concentrated voting blocks. As a result there is very little Indian representation in legislatures or Parliament. The other vehicle is the courts, which have sometimes been useful but the process is very expensive and agonizingly slow.
Sometimes blockades are like that of the Hollow Water First Nation, where the chief is at the forefront from the beginning. In other instances, such as the Grassy Narrows logging blockade in Ontario, action has been initiated by individual citizens who are unwilling to stand by any longer while their environment is destroyed. There are powder kegs out there, believe me.
I urge readers to learn about the treaties. The Manitoba Treaty Relations Commission was established last year to help educate both Indians and the public at large about treaties. In our view, education is the perfect antidote to the messages of people like Mr. Green.
Morris J. Swan Shannacappo is grand chief of the
Southern Chiefs' Organization.
Southern Chiefs' Organization.