THREE aboriginal chiefs from Manitoba are in London to mark a historic anniversary most Canadians never learned about but most First Nations members know by heart.
David Harper, Grand Chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, led a delegation of two other chiefs to attend events commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 in London this week.
Today, the Manitoba chiefs will join counterparts from Saskatchewan at ceremonies organized by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
Tuesday, the chiefs are expected at a reception at the High Commission of Canada, Canada's Embassy to the United Kingdom.
Also today, a fourth chief, Brokenhead's Jim Bear, is flying to the British capital and expects to meet with Lord Selkirk some time later this week. Their respective ancestors are Chief Peguis and the Lord Selkirk of settlers' fame.
Peguis was among the aboriginal chiefs who granted land for the original Red River Settlement for dispossessed Scottish highlanders whom Selkirk wanted to resettle in Canada.
There are experts who say the character of Canada was set that day 250 years ago on Oct. 7, when King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763.
It's significant because the declaration laid the basis for treaties that would be signed after Confederation.
The Royal Proclamation was the first declaration from the British Crown that acknowledged the sovereignty of aboriginal peoples. Because of it, the British North America Act and later Canada's Constitution provided for the protection for aboriginal people.
"Most indigenous and legal scholars consider the Royal Proclamation of 1763 an important first step toward the recognition of existing aboriginal rights and title, including the right to self-determination," said the MKO in a statement as Harper boarded a flight out of Winnipeg Friday.
With Harper went War Lake First Nation Chief Betsy Kennedy, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Coun. D'Arcy Linklater and five others, including traditional dancers.
Brokenhead's Bear, meanwhile, is making a separate trip, and while he hopes to meet up with northern chiefs, his main mission, he said, is to meet the current Lord Selkirk.
Lord Selkirk's ancestor signed a treaty with First Nations chiefs in 1817 to provide a lease for the settlement. Peguis complained to the day he died none of the tobacco Selkirk promised in that document was ever paid. Selkirk himself died just a few years after he made that treaty.
Bear, who is a descendant of Peguis, said it's important to preserve personal connections with history and that's the reason he's looking forward to meeting the British peer.
Bear said he's marking the anniversary with mixed feelings.
The proclamation recognized the sovereignty of First Nations, but in practical terms, aboriginal people have barely survived hundreds of years of assimilation, he said.
That's the kind of issue that would have been discussed last Friday at an academic conference in Winnipeg. The event, held to discuss the Royal Proclamation, its significance to the foundation of the country and its unmet promises, drew speakers here from across Canada.