Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Special Royal relationship serves us all

  • Print

As Queen Elizabeth's visit to Canada follows closely on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's very successful first national event, this is good time to think about the unique relationship between Canada's First Nations and the reigning sovereign. This relationship has historic, symbolic, legal and political aspects that are different from the subject-citizen relationship between other Canadians and the Queen.

After the British gained military control over lands in North America formerly under French control, King George III's priority was to ensure peace and friendship with First Nations. He issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which is still part of the Canadian Constitution, to recognize that First Nations had control over their lands and to establish a process for ceding lands to the British Crown to facilitate European settlement. The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that the treaty process "serves to reconcile pre-existing aboriginal sovereignty with assumed Crown sovereignty."

Subsequently, about 500 nation-to-nation treaties were signed between the First Nations in Canada and the Crown. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) noted that "because of this relationship, the Crown acts as the protector of the sovereignty of aboriginal peoples within Canada and as guarantor of their aboriginal and treaty rights. This fiduciary relationship is a fundamental feature of the constitution of Canada."

While treaties are not all the same, generally speaking, First Nations agreed by treaty to live peacefully with settlers and to give up some land rights in exchange for promises from the Crown to protect and respect social, economic and political rights. The negotiators for the numbered treaties affecting the prairie provinces agreed that the treaties would continue for "as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow."

Many First Nations peoples, therefore, consider treaties to be personal and perpetual promises made by the reigning monarch that are binding on his or her successors. This nation-to-nation relationship continues and is not subject to the vagaries of Canadian electoral politics.

First Nation institutions and leaders usually have a prominent role in Royal Tours. In 2005, Queen Elizabeth laid the cornerstone for Regina's First Nations University using stone taken from Balmoral Castle grounds. Noting that the castle was a favourite haunt of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, she wanted the stone to be "a reminder of the special relationship between the sovereign and all First Nations peoples."

On the current tour, the welcoming ceremony in Nova Scotia was opened with a prayer offered by a Mi'kmaq elder, the Queen visited a Mi'kmaq cultural centre and, while in Winnipeg, she will be greeted in Winnipeg by Chief Donavon Fontaine of the Sagkeeng First Nation.

She and other members of the Royal Family have accepted the honour of aboriginal names, thereby gaining the status of a relation and the symbolic obligations that attach to this status.

Canadian governments have a legal duty to protect the "honour of the Crown" in their dealings with aboriginal peoples. In the context of treaty interpretation and implementation, this duty requires that governments act with integrity and to honour the spirit and intent of treaties.

Queen Elizabeth has publicly acknowledged the importance of full compliance with these treaties. Treaties have been described by courts as containing "sacred promises." Recently, the Federal Court of Canada held that the federal government's refusal to consult with First Nations about Winnipeg's Kapyong Barracks redevelopment is "unlawful and a failure to maintain the honour of the Crown." (An appeal from this decision will be argued in court in the fall.)

Since at least as early at 1710, when three Chiefs from the Iroquoian Confederacy were received by Queen Anne to hear their petition for military aid, First Nations leaders from Canada have sought private and public audiences with the reigning sovereign.

In the late 1970s, First Nations delegations travelled to Britain to express concerns over the patriation of the Canadian constitution and the failure to involve them in constitutional conferences. Many are of the view that the Canadian government finally invited aboriginal leaders to the table out of fear that they would be rebuked by the Queen.

More recently, on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth's 2008 visit to British Columbia, Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Shawn Atleo presented her with a grievance over the intractable treaty negotiations in British Columbia.

The signatories to the numbered treaties promised that there would be "peace and good will between them and Her Majesty" and that First Nations would be able to "count upon... Her Majesty's bounty and benevolence." This is one treaty promise has been kept by both parties.

All Canadians have benefitted from the unique, ongoing and harmonious relationship that the Queen and First Nations have maintained.

Karen Busby is a professor of law in the Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2010 A14

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Your top TV picks for August 25-28

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Weather Standup- Catching rays. Prairie Dog stretches out at Fort Whyte Centre. Fort Whyte has a Prairie Dog enclosure with aprox. 20 dogs young and old. 060607.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Did you suffer any damages from Thursday's storm?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google