Friendship fragile as promises are broken: open letter to Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
My name is "Kawgee-Gee Gabwid." This is interpreted as "Stands Forever" in the language of the Ojibiwe or Chippewa language. You will remember me as Fred Plain, a hereditary chief of the Chippewa Nation at Sarnia, Ont. In the files of the Department of Indian Affairs, I am Band #377, belonging to Indian Reserve #42, in the Province of Ontario.
I am writing this letter because at one time in earlier days, I considered you "Nijkiwenh" (my friend.) Today, in 1996, I have respect for the honor that the citizens of Canada have bestowed upon you in selecting you as their "Ogamaw," or their national leader. I respect your ability to keep good communications with your fellow Canadian citizens, but because, sir, you have failed to establish good communications with the many First Nations of this land and have displayed an apparent reluctance to understand or even acknowledge the deep concerns of the current generation of First Nations, I now consider our past friendship as fragile and/or even shattered by the politics that you currently follow as `the rule of law.'
If your present political position does not forbid glimpses of the past, I hope that you will recall some of the days of our past. As an elected chief of the Chippewa Nation, you will recall that we had many good discussions at your offices in Ottawa and at that time, I felt a growing trust that your intentions were honorable when you talked about a better future for our nations.
At the last Indian Act consultation meeting in Ottawa in 1969, I had the honor of making a presentation to you on behalf of our national chiefs. In my statement, I pointed out that our chiefs were rejecting amendments to the Indian Act until there was a complete review of our rights and treaties. Mr. Chretien, a few months after this meeting, you presented to parliament, what we now know as the 1969 Chretien White Paper on Federal Indian Relations. We saw this paper as completely advocating assimilation. You said that to solve the "Indian problem," we should be equal. But you did not define what you meant by equal. Equal to what? Would we be equal to that component of your society that we know as affluent? Or would we be equal to the paupers and beggars of your slum areas? The fact is, we were already at that last level.
When you won the Liberal leadership, our nations were encouraged by the campaign promises to our nations in your Liberal Red Book. Little did we know that you would implement these promises of recognition of inherent rights and self-government based on yours and your bureaucrats' understanding and definition of the meaning of "inherent rights" and "self-government."
When Mr. Trudeau and yourself agreed that the 1969 White Paper was too pragmatic, you said it would be shelved. Instead it appears it went into slots that were obviously labeled "pending" or "on-going." As prime minister, you assigned Ron Irwin to begin the implementation of the White Paper. Mr. Irwin has been advocating a wide revision of the Indian Act before your current Liberal government calls for a new election. This action is contrary to the results of the Indian Act consultations of the 1960s.
You will recall that during your term as the Minister of Indian Affairs, I advocated and planned a picketing of your residence at Ottawa because of your failure to deal with your concerns. You were aghast. You asked us, "What will my children think about these Aboriginal people picketing their home?" Your children were adopted Aboriginal children, so we respected your family concerns.
Mr. Prime Minister, your nation of Canada began here on Turtle Island in 1867. Our several nations have been here, dating back to time immemorial. Before you established our Constitution of law and order, we had nations that had systems of law and order dating back to time immemorial. Your legal interpretations are anti-historic as you refuse to accept our past and our traditions. Your empty promises and the broken treaties have left a legacy of mistrust among our people. Now we see the perspective for a new election. Only on the basis of trust can our Aboriginal nations sit down with Canada, to work out a better future for the coming year and new century that is imminent.
I sign this with the true respect that our many traditional teachings demand of me. Perhaps we can be "friends" again.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 1997|
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