The Treaty Process and Indian Nationalism

By Ray Bobb

Member, Seabird Island Indian Band

Vancouver, B.C.

In a treaty process that is strictly circumscribed by the federal government’s Comprehensive Land Claims Policy, Indian status is being legislatively extinguished. The treaties of this process require tribal people to (1) renounce their status as Indians under the meaning of the Indian Act, (2) cede their aboriginal entitlement to land and (3) incorporate into Canada as (first nation) municipalities. The government’s Comprehensive Land Claims Policy is only incidentally a policy for the settlement of land claims. Primarily, it is a policy to extinguish Indian status.

Canada’s treaty process is, on two counts, illegal in international law. Canada exercises colonial rule over a people whose nationality is Indian, i.e., Canadian Indian. (1) By depriving Indian people of their nationality Canada is violating their human rights in contravention of article 15 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.” (2) By, then, incorporating Indian tribes into Canada as municipalities Canada is violating Indian people’s political rights in contravention of article 1 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that “All peoples have the right of self-determination.”

Additionally, the treaties of the federal government’s treaty process are not bona fide. Treaties are by definition made between nations. Canada is a nation. Provinces and tribes are not. Separately existing and independent tribal nations did exist prior to colonization. Upon being colonized by Canada, however, tribal authorities were replaced by the Department of Indian Affairs operating under the authority of the Indian Act and the tribes were unified into a single, de facto, national entity: the native internal colony.

Legal apologists for the government’s treaty process hold that negotiated agreements of the treaty process are valid in that they are arrived at (1) bilaterally, (2) voluntarily and (3) fairly. This is not so.

(1) The central issues of the treaty process involve the interests of two opposed national entities: the native internal colony and Canada. In the treaty process the federal government, in effect, pays the Indian representatives. Treaties under this arrangement are not bilateral. They are fraudulent.

(2) The government payments of land, resources and money in the treaty process are part of the normal requirements of an underprivileged people. As such, treaty payments are necessities of life that are purposely withheld by government in order to force Indians into the treaty process. The treaties under such a process are not voluntary. They are coerced.

(3) In the government’s treaty process, the quantitative aspects dealing with amounts of money, land and resources are negotiable and a template regarding these is being formulated. The qualitative aspects, however, dealing with the relationship between Indian people and Canada, are not negotiable. The treaties of such a process are not fair. They are imposed.

The underlying motive for the federal government’s extinguishment policy is the demand by big business for economic “certainty” in regard to aboriginal title and land claims. The federal government responded with a wholesale attack on Indian rights. In 1969, the government put forth the White Paper Policy on Indians that proposed to unilaterally extinguish Indian status, Indian reserves, the Indian Act, the Department of Indian Affairs and all rights or entitlements belonging to Indians. At the same time, the government began sponsoring a native leadership and funding social reforms to be carried out by that leadership. In 1973, the extinguishment policy of the (failed) White Paper was reaffirmed in the federal government’s Comprehensive Land Claim Policy. After several decades of nurturing a captive native leadership, the federal government is now implementing the extinguishment policy, bilaterally, in the comprehensive treaty process.

The government gives ostensive recognition to tribes as nations, i.e., first nations, in order to (1) foster tribalism in the native internal colony, (2) subvert Indian nationalism and (3) give credibility to “nation-to-nation” negotiations that require tribes to secede from the Indian national entity.

Further deception on the part of government is its stated opposition to the Indian Act as on outmoded document. In reality, the government wants to nullify the Indian Act because it recognizes the existence of a colonized people whose subjection and expropriation question the legitimacy of the Canadian settler-state.

Indian leadership sponsored by government cannot be relied upon to resist government attack. This resistance can only come from the Indian people themselves, in direct action and independent organization. To be successful this resistance needs to be inspired by a vision of the future.

Although Indian nationalism has always been a component of native consciousness, it is sometimes thought to be politically unviable. For instance, the native internal colony is sometimes perceived to be small and powerless in relation to the Canadian settler-state. On the global level, the native internal colony is, politically, part of a powerful majority. The entire non-Europeanized world, except for Japan, suffers from foreign domination and exploitation. The national liberation movements in this vast area represent the principal and determining conflicts of our time. This is so to the extent that their success constitutes and historical precondition for the positive development of conflict between the native internal colony and the Canadian settler-state. The establishment of this precondition, although crucial for the native internal colony, is not within the scope of this presentation. Suffice it to say that (1) wars, such as the Vietnam War, have proven that imperialism can be defeated in the global South and (2) the continuing devastation caused by imperialism guarantees many more Vietnams. The smallness and powerlessness of the native internal colony is belied by the objective process of history.

Three additional features of the native internal colony that sometime cast doubt on Indian nationalism are that (1) the members of the native internal colony are part of the Canadian working class, (2) one-half of them live in the cities of the Canadian settler-state and (3) the tribal territories of the native internal colony are divided throughout the Canadian settler-nation.

The features of the native internal colony indicate (1) the close interrelation of the native internal colony and the Canadian settler nation and (2) the, simultaneous, opportunity in and vulnerability of its position.

Internationally, the vulnerability of the native internal colony can be seen as imperialism militarily attacks the peoples of the global South and outlaws internal support for them. Opportunity on the other hand can be seen in the position of the native internal colony as a bridge between divided parts of humanity all of whom on one level or another are trying to transcend a once-dynamic social system that now poses a threat to their survival.

Nationally, the native internal colony is vulnerable as can be seen by the genocidal direction of government Indian policy in (1) the residential school system, (2) the extreme military and policy reactions to native activism and (3) the extinguishment of Indian rights under the treaty process. On the other hand, the resources of the tribal territories can never be completely separated from the Canadian economy and hold the promise of future cooperation and mutual benefit. Additionally, the members of the native internal colony, as workers in Canadian production, can look forward to the right of dual citizenship.

The reality that precludes decolonization and respect for the right of native people to national self-determination is Canada under the control of banks and corporations. Such a country is impervious to rationality and humanity. Once imperialism has been overthrown in the global South, however, it will no longer be able to bribe its domestic workers with high wages and political liberties. The Canadian workers will then transform the banks and corporations from organs of private enrichment into social assets of a new Canada. Before that event, Indian nationalists must (1) associate with and support national liberation movements in the global South, (2) resist the anti-Indian policies of the Canadian settler-state, (3) clarify and strengthen the native national entity and (4) develop allies in the Canadian working class.