Who Represents Indigenous People In Ottawa Canada?


The President of the Canadian Alliance in Solidarity with the Native Peoples, Kahn-Tineta Horn, spoke on January 29, 1999, at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law "35th Annual Conference on Law and Contemporary Affairs." No law conference is complete nowadays without a panel on Indigenous issues. This one was on "Remedies in Aboriginal Rights Litigation." The following is the text of Ms. Horn's comments. The Indigenous and many of the non-native law students reacted favourably, but many politely did not react.


"If you are an indigenous person living on territory claimed by Canada, you might want to ask some questions about Draft Resolution No. 49/98 passed by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) at its 19th Annual General Assembly in June 1998. That resolution is about "Representation of all First Nations Peoples by the First Nations". Sounds good, eh?

So why is the AFN asking Ottawa to pass laws about OUR electoral rights? Does the United States ask Canada's Parliament to pass laws about how its people vote? Does China? NO WAY!

WHO SHOULD MAKE LAWS FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLES?

It's up to each nation to make its own laws and choose its own representatives. Ottawa has no say in how we govern ourselves - at least not according to international law.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says: "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development".

Canada signed that covenant. We First Nations haven't had a chance to do that yet because Canada has been undermining our governments every since their colonial ancestors started claiming our land and possessions. Canada holds us hostage because it owes us money for our lands and resources and it won't pay us. But they will pay the organizations they set up to 'represent' us. This is outrageous!

Do you know of any other Nation that is treated like this? When anyone else sells land, does the buyer have a right to say, "Okay, I'm gonna pay you. But first I'll tell you what kind of ceremonies you have to go through to be married to your wife, who your children are, and who you can invite to stay at your house. Then you have to show me all your account books. If I approve of how you're going to spend the money I owe you, well, then maybe I'll pay you." NO WAY! But that's exactly what Canada is doing to the First Nations.

We should be asking some really hard questions about what Ottawa and their AFN are up to. The AFN promotes Ottawa's viewpoint instead of standing up for our inherent right to self-government.

AMBASSADORS? Or REVIEWERS?

The AFN wants their "Chiefs-in-Assembly" to be able to REVIEW legislation about the way WE choose OUR governments before it is introduced in CANADA'S parliament!!!! This is REALLY WEIRD!!! Does any other nation or international organization kow-tow to Ottawa that way? No as far as I know!

Does Canada have a right to send its proposals about us to their puppets for review? Or do we want to send our own AMBASSADORS to Ottawa?

Let's look at what the AFN review proposal means:

If Ottawa sends legislation to the AFN Chiefs-in-Assembly for review, who's work do you think they're reviewing? Why the Department of Indian Affairs, of course! Do you think any of those bureaucrats are going to stay up late at night thinking up ways to get rid of the Indian Act and do themselves out of their high paying civil service jobs? Not on your life!

Do other countries let Ottawa's Department of External Affairs decided how they are going to govern themselves or choose their representatives? Not a chance. They choose their own forms of government and pick their own representatives in their own way.

And do you think Ottawa would agree to anything their Chiefs-in Assembly propose which conflicts with their policies? Of course not. Does Ottawa invite the United States to send their draft legislation so Parliament can review it before the US passes laws affecting Canada? No way. Canada decides for itself what Canada's laws are going to be. So does the U.S.

We are nations so we too have a right to choose AMBASSADORS to represent us. We do not have to beg for a right to review a foreign government's (Canada) attempt to make laws for a jurisdiction they do not legally have. Think about it.

WHAT KIND OF REPRESENTATION DO WE WANT?

We all agree that we want "Representation of First Nations Peoples by First Nations People". What does this mean and how are we going to go about it?

The first questions is WHO ARE THE FIRST NATIONS?

Are we the band of people attached to reserves governed by Canada's Indian Act? Or are we the nations that were here before European settlers took our land and split up our territory and resources among themselves?

Just because we are all Indigenous peoples doesn't mean we all have the same ideas. European peoples are not forced to belong to the same countries or organizations just because they're of European ancestry. We shouldn't have to be lumped together just because we have indigenous ancestry. We all have in common that we are titleholders to North America and that we have true traditional indigenous governments.

What we want is acknowledgment of our national identities, for our inherent right to political existence, jurisdiction over our territories and all aspects of our lives. We all have different histories and the right to choose different futures and different forms of government -- especially those of us who still exercise independent nationhood.

Canada and the AFN do not recognize this. The AFN is, after all, made up of a system of Chiefs set up under Canada's Indian Act. The AFN is playing right into Canada's hands. Instead of defending our true traditional governments, it is allowing Canada to force us into their confederation which wants jurisdiction over us and our land. We never agreed to become part of their confederation of settler provinces. The Six Nations were never conquered. Canada should pay its debts to the true representatives chosen by our own internally chosen traditional government, not to the Indian Act Band council that they imposed on us by force.

HOW CAN WE CHOOSE OUR PROPER REPRESENTATIVES?

The international community needs to know who our proper representatives are. So we need to know who we are.

The AFN says it represents all first nations people regardless of residence. But does it really? Who decided that the AFN represents all First Nations people anyway? The people? Or the individuals who set up the AFN? Or Canada's Indian Act which was imposed on us against our wishes? Who decides who can vote in the elections of a First Nation? If the AFN recognizes voting rights under Canada's Indian Act, it is betraying our inherent right to our true governments. Like other nations, we have a right to decide for ourselves who our representatives are.

The AFN's top down decision-making is the same way Canada decided that all Indigenous nations north of the artificial Canada-United States border were Canadians. The people themselves had no say in it. How would they feel if the U.S. decided that all Canadians were U.S. Citizens? I don't think they would like it at all.

The AFN models itself on Canada's government set up under Imperial British authority. This violates our international human rights. Under international law just because a person is a member of a First Nation does not mean they can represent a First Nation. The representatives of the First Nations must be properly chosen by our legitimate governments, not by the governments imposed on us by Canada.

Each nation has to right to decide on its own form of government. What kind of government does each First Nation have? What kind does it want?

The Mohawk Nation citizens have a true traditional government.

The traditional government of the Haudenosaunee Iroquois Confederacy is governed by the Gayanerekowa, the Great Law of Peace, which is the constitution of our people. We are a union of six independent nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. Each nation is independent .. or at least as much as we can manage in the face of all the interference from Canada, Quebec, Ontario, New York and the United States that we have to cope with. Our Confederacy deals with jurisdiction over our territories, governing ourselves and issues like trading with Europeans and alliances with the settlers. We have always defended our independence as nations and we have never become subjects of either Britain or Canada.

Other First Nations deal with Canada in other ways. It is their right to decide for themselves what to do, but that has nothing to do with our right to self-government under our traditional laws.

If the AFN really wants to help the First Nations people reaffirm the true First Nations governments, they should stop being Canadian government paid civil servants who are helping a foreign government try to keep the First Nations people colonized.


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