The Honour of the Crown

 

I continued on my inferior trip to Lake Superior as I have called it.  I love northwest Ontario particularly with its magnificent little rocky islands. To me they express the wonder of this beautiful country. I saw a few fine ones on this little jaunt and could not stop myself from stopping to photograph them. Some people say this country is just rocks and trees. They find them boring. Friends have told me this. I think only boring people could be bored by the stunning beauty of the country.

 

Some people think the government should renege on contracts (treaties) it has made with First Nations even though it continues to enjoy the benefits of those treaties. Is this a viable option?

There is a critically important concept the courts have enunciated in explaining the constitutional relationship between the federal government and indigenous peoples. That is the notion of the honour of the Crown. The crown is expected to be honourable. The crown must be honourable.

The honour of the Crown must be the basis of the relationship between the Crown (the government now) and the First Nations? Would failure to honour our obligations to first nations people not amount to the erosion of the rule of law in this country? Is that really what we want?

People often ask me why does the government give so much money to First Nations? Well, in large part, because they entered into contracts with First Nations by way of Treaties, that obligate them to do that! It is not free money Canada is giving away. It is money it owes the First Nations for sharing the land with them. Don’t we think we should pay that? Should we renege on the bargain? Would that be the honourable thing to do? Would that not require us to give our right to share the land back to the indigenous peoples?

Although each treaty is different, basically those treaties legally require the government of Canada, in return for getting to use the indigenous land, together with the first nations, to provide those first nations with schooling, housing, health care, and education. In simplified terms that is what Canada as a sovereign nation agreed to. It is bound by those treaties. The First nations are also bound by those treaties. They are considered sacred agreements by First Nations peoples.

 

f Canada walked away from its legal obligations would it not, as Professor Bohaker asked, “invalidate our legal system?” Do we want to do that? I know I don’t want to give up ownership of my house. What about my lease for our cottage on land owned by the Buffalo Point First Nation pursuant to Treaty 3? I don’t want to give that up either. I had to rush this short jaunt because my family was gathering on Thanksgiving Weekend at Buffalo Point to sand and stain our deck. I don’t yet want to give that cottage away, though I could do without the work.

In the film Colonization Road, indigenous lawyer and activist Pam Palmater said, said this about the effect of treaties made between Canada and First Nations:

 

“Even after the Royal Proclamation why were so many treaties signed? Because they had to have our consent. There was no choice by law or international law. And that’s significant. Treaties don’t take away from any of that, it actually just bolsters that. And now that the treaties are constitutionally protected it means they are. Recognition of our sovereignty and nationhood is the basis of the legal legitimacy of this country. You take away that and Canada has no legitimacy whatsoever. They need to recognize our sovereignty and nationhood in order to even exist as a state. And every other country in the world is well aware of that. And all Canada has to do is make one stupid move and look how quickly Russia or the United States comes in to claim our territory.”

 

No. I think we need to maintain our treaties. They are part of the social and legal framework of this country. We are all treaty people.

 

 

1 thought on “The Honour of the Crown

  1. On this general topic, and having been reading about Thomas Paine (a thinker whom I recall you admire) lately, I ran across this: “…a deeply attractive vision of human possibility.” The article is by Charles C. Mann and appeared in
    The New York Times, on American Independence Day, July 4, 2005. It made me wonder about the Canadian context and how, if Indigenous people in Canada were more broadly charged with creating solutions that recognize treaties and that ensure no laws are created “unto which the people are averse,” what those solutions might look like.

    Like you, I don’t want to give up my home. Like your cottage, our place is on historically significant territory: Treaty 1 and 3 lands in the Winnipeg River basin, home to Indigenous Nations for centuries and, more recently, an important part of the founding heartland of the Metis Nation. How to reconcile this in a manner that is “predicated on the consent of the governed?” Tough as it sounds to figure out, surely our existing treaties would be part of that solution?

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