13 January 2020
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
RE: BILL C-15 AN ACT RESPECTING THE UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Onion Lake Cree Nation (OLCN) made Treaty with the Imperial Crown in 1876. As Treaty Peoples, we have never given our permission to any entity to make decisions on behalf of our Peoples, including our children’s children. Consequently, the Government of Canada has no authority to make decisions on behalf of our Nation.
When the Imperial Parliament created Canada in 1867, it had no authority to transfer our lands and territories to the new dominion called “Canada.” Why? Because the Imperial Parliament did not own our lands and territories. There has been no action since 1867 to give Canada our territories including our resources, our peoples, or our future generations. It falls to Canada to prove to us – the original peoples who own and govern our territories and resources – and to the international community that Canada has rights. Without proof, we cannot and will not accept any legislation that attempts to give legitimacy to the purported sovereignty of Canada over our territories and resources.
When Indigenous Peoples went to the League of Nations in 1923, Canada imposed strict laws to prevent us from organizing, from hiring lawyers to promote our case, and banned our people from gathering in groups of three or more people. Not much has changed in nearly one hundred years. Canada is still acting like a bully.
There is no organization mandated to speak for our Peoples. Onion Lake Cree Nation has never given our consent – implied or otherwise - for someone to speak for us. And your government’s continuing efforts to manufacture consent is strongly rejected, particularly in our current pandemic circumstances. Our full attention needs to be directed to the health and safety of our people, not on legislation that encroaches further upon our sovereignty.
While we want to refrain from speaking to the provisions of Bill C-15 as it might be misconstrued as being “consultation,” we want to make two comments based on our long history of working at the international level. The international definition of Indigenous Peoples covered by the Declaration is based on the precedent set by the United Nations in the Cobo Study from 1972 (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1982/2/Add.6). We quote the whole provision because Canada is attempting to use domestic law to change an international standard into a pan aboriginal definition without any international significance is in complete violation of our rights as Peoples.
“Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system.”
“This historical continuity may consist of the continuation, for an extended period reaching into the present of one or more of the following factors:
a) Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them;
b) Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands;
c) Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribal system, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, lifestyle, etc.);
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Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau
d) Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual means of communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual, general or normal language);
e) Residence on certain parts of the country, or in certain regions of the world; f) Other relevant factors.”
“On an individual basis, an indigenous person is one who belongs to these indigenous populations through self-identification as indigenous (group consciousness) and is recognized and accepted by these populations as one of its members (acceptance by the group)”.
“This preserves for these communities the sovereign right and power to decide who belongs to them, without external interference”
Thus the United Nations has recognized our sovereign right to decide who our Peoples’ are. The Crown, in making Treaty with our ancestors, accepted our right to determine our own treaty paylists. This legislation is similar to the way Canada changed its obligations under the Genocide Convention. Canada enacted provisions in the Criminal Code related to Genocide and left out a key international standard - the section related to the forcible transfer of children – read residential schools. This provision was omitted to suit a domestic agenda. Onion Lake cannot accept the reduction of our rights to the lowest common denominator of Section 35. Our rights as Treaty
Peoples are directly to our Lands.
One other component that is missing in the legislation relates to oversight by the International community. If Canada was really interested in upholding our rights, Canada would make the legislation subject to any international legal review and oversight. Any violations of the Declaration by the state should be subject to review and sanction by the United Nations General Assembly.
Bill C-15 purports to have the purpose of ‘reconciliation.’ Is that reconciliation to a unilateral assertion of Canadian sovereignty that turns us into ‘Aboriginal Peoples of Canada? Or is it reconciliation with our Treaty Nation by returning to, and honouring, our Treaty relationship? As drafted, Bill C-15 projects a false ‘reconciliation to’ domestication – a reconciliation without respect for our Peoples or our Treaty. It entrenches the doctrine of discovery dressed up in fancy ‘affirming’ language. And despite the clear definitions in the UNDRIP, it continues to classify our Peoples as Peoples ‘of Canada.’
As Treaty partners, we call upon you to withdraw this legislation. Instead, Canada should support an international process for the development of sound legal pluralism mechanisms as recommended by Special Rapporteur Miguel Alfsono Martinez in his Treaty Study, finalized and accepted in 1999. Treaties must be implemented for our Peoples to enjoy the resources of our territories rather than the drip feed that Canada presently employs to keep our Nations subservient to the state created by the Imperial Parliament. The Honour of the Crown is an overriding obligation that came with the creation of Canada.
In Peace and Friendship,
Okimaw Henry Lewis, M. ED, B. ED
Per: ONION LAKE CREE NATION
Wicekaskosiw Sakahikan Nehiyaw Askiy
cc: Council, Onion Lake Cree Nation
Her Majesty, the Queen
Governor General, Julie Payette
Minister David Lametti, Department of Justice
Minister Carolyn Bennett, Crown Indigenous Relations
Members of the House of Commons
Members of the Senate
UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)