AFN National Chief acknowledges 25th Anniversary of section 35 of Canada's 1982 Constitution as a victory for First Peoples but a vision yet to be realized



    
    35. (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal
    peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
           - The Constitution Act, 1982 (Part II, Rights of the Aboriginal
             Peoples of Canada)
    

    OTTAWA, April 17 /CNW Telbec/ - Assembly of First Nations National Chief
Phil Fontaine today commented on the 25th anniversary of section 35 of
Canada's 1982 Constitution Act.
    "Twenty-five years ago today, Aboriginal peoples secured an important
victory at the Constitutional table. The victory is section 35 of Canada's
1982 Constitution Act, which recognizes the existing Aboriginal and treaty
rights of the First Peoples of Canada. Section 35 is important because it
recognizes that Aboriginal peoples have different rights from other Canadians
by virtue of being the First Peoples of this land, who never surrendered or
gave up those rights to any government. It recognizes that our rights are
"inherent" - they are within us, not gifts from government to ignore or deny
at their whim. And it recognizes that Canada must honour and respect these
rights.
    Aboriginal and Treaty rights are a reality and are part of our country's
legal and political landscape. And yet, a quarter of a century later, First
Nations continue to challenge the federal government to honour the spirit,
intent, and content that section 35 promised. Federal policy and legislation
has failed to respond appropriately to section 35.
    The federal "inherent right" policy, for example, attempts to define,
prescribe and limit for us what our rights are. As a result, negotiations are
based on a limited and narrow definition. The federal government's land claims
policy moves at a glacial pace and is further compromised by a conflict of
interest in which the federal government is judge and jury in claims brought
against it. It is failing First Nations and costing Canadians hundreds of
millions of dollars per year.
    In general, federal negotiating policies are not designed to create
success. They are designed to create 'wins' for the federal government by
limiting the scope of First Nations rights and First Nations governments. We
have seen in recent weeks the concerns by First Nations in BC over the Treaty
process. Many have expressed serious concerns about the limited, narrow scope
of the discussions.
    None of this is good for First Nations or Canada. It creates frustration
for the political leadership. It creates conflict on the ground within our own
communities and with non-Aboriginal Canadians.
    There is hope, however, in this situation.
    This generation has the opportunity to right the wrong of the last
twenty-five years. We can work together to give life to the promise of section
35. As the Supreme Court wrote in the Sparrow decision, 'Section 35 calls for
a just settlement with aboriginal peoples.'
    The problem to date has been the failure of any government to truly
recognize our jurisdiction over our own lands and our own peoples. First
Nations are only asking what other Canadians take for granted: that our rights
be respected and implemented.
    Giving life to section 35 means sitting down as partners and talking
about the new structures we need to revitalize First Nations governments -
getting out from under the colonial Indian Act and the archaic mandate and
practices of the Department of Indian Affairs. We need new fiscal arrangements
that enable First Nations to truly invest in their people, their communities
and their future.
    A new approach is urgently required to deal with the outstanding,
legitimate land claims of First Nations. Land is central to our economic,
political and cultural freedom. None of this means turning back the clock or
putting a stop to all economic activity. It means fair settlements that allow
First Nations to enjoy - on their own or with industry and government - the
benefits of the riches in our traditional territories.
    First Nations have a plan for action. And, there is no excuse not to act.
It is cheaper to fix the problems than it is to maintain the status quo. First
Nations want to end dependency and work towards self-sufficiency. We are
seeking tools, not hand-outs. We want to work in partnership with all
governments to improve the lives of our people. In honouring its obligations
to First Nations, the government will be helping First Nations to help
themselves.
    Section 35 represents a promise, and a vision. But, because the promise
goes unfulfilled, the vision cannot be realized. Our greatest legacy to future
generations will be to secure this vision and promise for all Canadians.
Fulfilling this vision will help fulfill Canada's potential. As a result,
Canada will be a strong and productive country that is seen as a leader in
respecting and recognizing human rights and Aboriginal rights of Indigenous
Peoples.
    Today, we celebrate the achievements of our forebears who secured the
recognition of our rights. And in looking forward, we extend a hand to all the
peoples of this nation to work with us to breathe life into the spirit and
intent embodied in the words of section 35."

    Phil Fontaine
    National Chief

    The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing
First Nations citizens in Canada.




For further information:

For further information: Bryan Hendry, A/Director of Communications,
(613) 241-6789 ext. 229, cell (613) 293-6106, bhendry@afn.ca; Nancy Pine,
Communications Advisor - Office of the National Chief, (613) 241-6789 ext 243,
(613) 298-6382, npine@afn.ca


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