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A Short Note To Correct Canadian Misconceptions About Indians Living Off “Taxpayer Monies”

- WCNativeNews on February 10th, 2015 3:17 am - 1 Comment

A Short Note To Correct Canadian Misconceptions About Indians Living Off “Taxpayer Monies”

Richard C. Powless, Mohawk Nation – Ogwaho (Wolf) Clan Six Nations of the Grand River

To understand that Indian are not living off taxpayers funds it is necessary to explain the Treaties between the Crown and First Nations. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact for a very long time the Canadian government directly lived off Indian monies – these were called Indian Trust Funds. The first Treaties to be negotiated were before Confederation and were peace and friendship (military alliance) and economic Treaties. Many of the early Treaties were recorded by First Nations on Wampum Belts. The Two Row Wampum (Guswenta) Treaty is probably the best known with its two parallel lines. There was no mention of land sales or sessions in these early treaties. In fact, the entire Treaty making process was an Indian process that occurred between our First Nations even before contact. This early Treaty making process was strictly followed by the settlers when they began to negotiate access to our territories.

It is important to note that the “Treaty” is about the relationship and not just a paper document, as it has wrongly come to be known today. The Treaty includes how the parties behaved toward each other leading up to and during the negotiations, and how they were to treat each other long after negotiations concluded. If they lived up to their word. Treaty making always involved ceremony. The Treaty ceremony often lasted weeks or sometimes a month. There was feasting and an exchange of gifts. The Crown often promised and provided “Annual Presents” to First Nations participants on the anniversary of the Treaty’s conclusion. These annual gifts were later transferred into cash payments.This is the first example of a debt undertaken by the Crown toward First Nations.The Iroquois often referred to the settlers as “Brothers” referring to a family relationship. And in the same way that the sibling relationship changes as brothers age from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood, the Treaty relationship must also change and be updated from time to time as the parties evolve, and the relationship changes. The Silver Covenant Chain Treaty best reflects this. It shows people joined by a giant chain – signifying the relationship. In the same way that the silver chain must be polished or it will tarnish and weaken, so it is with the Treaty relationship. It must be polished or updated. The purpose of the Covenant Chain Treaty was to be “of one Mind, linked together in the Chain of Friendship.” But in order to maintain peace, the First Nations and the Europeans also understood that the chain was also based on mutual economic benefits and mutual support in times of crisis. The root Indian language (Onondaga) word of the Covenant Chain means –
“They Link Arms” — “Dehudadnetsháus”

To update the treaties or polish the Covenant Chain today means that for the numbered Treaties, the $5.00 promised during the 1800′s must be updated to contemporary equivalent value. Medicine chests and school commitments must be updated to include full health and education services. For the Iroquois, the pre-Confederation Treaties contain promises made by the Crown’s representatives to look after his Brothers and to provide for them when they were in need. This too can be updated to modern terms.

When many of the Treaties were negotiated pre and post Confederation promises of cash payment were made. First Nations did not have banks so the monies owed to First Nations were placed in Trust Accounts in banks in England and Scotland. After Confederation these funds were transferred from Britain to Canada and placed in the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which was the bank account the Canadian government used to run the day-to-day operations of Canada. There are many Specific Claims today against Canada for the misuse of First Nations Trust Funds. To this day there has never been a full accounting of Indian Trust Funds held by the Crown and transferred to Canada.

So we can see that the Crown owes a debt to First Nations of the value of the promised “Annual Presents” from before Confederation and the Crown owes First Nations the funds promised to them in the Treaties, including a full accounting of how First Nations Trust Funds were used without the consent of First Nations. It is clear that Canada used First Nations funds to run Canada in its early days and even up to the 1960s the “Indian Agents” were still largely in control of funds in relation to Band financial affairs.

The second part of this story is what was actually promised in the post-Confederation or the so-called numbered Treaties. Canada calls these “land session” treaties and claims that for some cash, twine, ammunition, a medicine chest and promises of schools, and a Chiefs coat they bought this country. It is on this basis they claim they obtained title to our lands. These are the Treaties that rest in the National Archives in Ottawa. This is known to First Nations as the BIG LIE in Canada.

There is a different First Nations understanding of the numbered Treaties. First Nations come from an oral tradition. At the time of Treaty negotiations most First Nations people did not speak English, let alone write English. The Treaties were written in English and the translators mostly worked for the Crown/Canada. In simple terms the descendents of the Treaty signators consistently maintain the Treaties in the National Archives are lies.

What was written down and what was promised was totally different. For example, the concept of land sales did not exist in most First Nations cultures. It was as foreign to First Nations as trying to sell a quantity of air or, a measured amount of water flowing in a river. What First Nations did understand is that they were agreeing to share the land and environment with the newcomers, as was their tradition. First Nations had taught the newcomers how to survive in their new lands. First Nations Chiefs, Elders and historians say they only agreed to give up some rights to the “depth of a plough blade” in the land. Subsurface rights were never discussed nor were they sold or transferred to the Crown.

This means that the Treaties are an unsettled matter. It means there is yet to be a reckoning. First Nations have still to be paid for the past use and exploitation of their lands and resources in their traditional territories since contact. There is also a need to conclude agreements for the ongoing use of their lands and resources (resource revenue sharing). There is quite simply an enormous debt owed First Nations that Canada refuses to acknowledge or accept. It is in the trillions of dollars!

Yet when First Nations attempt to pursue a just settlement they are told they have to launch a “land claim.” This very term is insulting! Since the newcomer Canadians brought no land with them, if there is any question as to who owns the land, it defaults to First Nations. First Nations are told they have to follow biased and unfair land claims processes that offer no return of their lands; offer 10 cents on the dollar of the value of their lands based on 19th century valuations; and that First Nations must”extinguish” all their rights and interests in their lands and resources for a limited and restrictive recognition of their rights and title. Now the federal government is prepared to out-wait First Nations by giving take it or leave it offers.

First Nations are ready to set the ledger straight. They would be prepared to end the $7 billion dollars that is supposedly provided to them annually, some of which is eaten up by the salaries of close to 5,000 bureaucrats of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and much of which goes to severely under-funded programs and services that do not meet to the needs of First Nations. First Nations would be prepared to end the paltry $7 billion in exchange for a settlement of the trillions owed to them as back payment for the use and exploitation of their lands and resources since contact; and this does not include an ongoing arrangement for government-to-government transfer payments similar to what the existing provinces receive and agreements for resource revenue sharing.

This debt to First Nations by the Crown and now Canada is longstanding – its time to settle up

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12 Comments in Response to “A Short Note To Correct Canadian Misconceptions About Indians Living Off “Taxpayer Monies””

  • Those who have racist views, or are ignorant about the true history of our landbase, only look at the written documents, regardless of our oral base history and our side of understanding. Can you provide a history lesson (and the legal recognition given through the courts), on the important and very serious nature of Indigenous oral history and its keepers? Meegwetch

    linda littlechief on April 18th, 2014 Reply This Comment ::
    • To the person who asked for clarification and references concerning the validity of our oral history (“legal recognition given through the courts,”)

      I’m sorry I can’t give actual citations or court references. Perhaps another with better research skills than I possess can dig the info up for you.

      In a Canadian court, possibly B.C., a ruling was handed down by the judge that read something like this: Treaties are to be interpreted in the manner in which they (the Indians) understood them to mean. That is not a direct quote but the best my memory comes up with. One thing I can say about that ruling is this: there was NO ambiguity in that ruling. It was quite clear and concise.

      Hope this is at least of some help.

      Clive on June 21st, 2014 Reply This Comment ::
  • It is not in this so called country’s interests to update anything or correct the misinformation of and widespread propaganda that is their history books. Oppression and annihilation of indigenous peoples have and will forever be the goal of colonial settler governments! That’s just the way it is! And Indigenous peoples WILL have to fight to protect their own rights on thier own lands amongst a nation of ignorant “Canadian citizens” because like hearded sheep, they choose to believe the Great White Lie of Canada! Truth be told… the truth will never be told by those who would have the most to lose!

    Ange Jacobs on May 8th, 2014 Reply This Comment ::
  • Two thumbs up.

    Dan David on May 11th, 2014 Reply This Comment ::
  • Hello to all my relatives, natives…we all know from day one of our treaty with the government. we must stand togather like we all ways do, and start building a strong foundation for our treaty (self-government) is the way for our people, land & resources and to renew this $5.00 and indian trust fund.

    donald echo on May 12th, 2014 Reply This Comment ::
  • I wish all Canadians would read the opening article by Richard Powless, with an open mind.
    If they did, they might look back to when they were children and adults made and ORAL promise to them, and later broke it. Do you remember how helpless you felt because you had no proof the promise was ever made? I sure do.
    With today’s myriad methods of communication — all recorded — it is difficult to imagine a time when laws and traditions and customs were simply passed along through the generations, by word of mouth. But they were. That’s how it was.

    Ruth McVeigh on July 14th, 2014 Reply This Comment ::
  • We need to stop arguing with those that refuse to accept trur facts, it’s pointless and a waste of good energy. Natives are winning land claims all over Canada, lawsuits for residential schools and so much more. Let’s not stoop to the levels of those that only see hate and greed towards us. We need tofeel sorry for them.

    They think they see the full government treaties, they see what the government wants them to and the learn what the government wants them to.

    Ann Mongrain on August 8th, 2014 Reply This Comment ::
  • I do not agree with the treaty propaganda being shoved in our faces..

    “Indian agents held all the power for so long.. forcing our people to be relocated and I am sure we are not the only(the Gwa’Sala and the ‘Nakwaxda’xw people were forcibly relocated in 1964, in “our best interest”! After the move, alcoholism and drug abuse became more common.. our people suffered because DIA in their infinite wisdom decided we were better off in Port Hardy! So many deaths and suicides and many of those deaths could have been avoided!

    And more recently, the province of British Columbia, decided to cash in on our children! Do you realize that both the Ministry of Child & Family Development AND Aboriginal agencies’ funding is based on how many kids in their care!? Our kids, (check it out!) are a HUGE money maker for both social workers and foster parents. They designed “policy” to fit their agenda! And that agenda isn’t meant to keep families together! It’s “legal kidnapping!”

    I speak from experience.. I worked as a social worker for almost 30 years! And for much longer than that, I have given homes to almost 100 children as both paid AND unpaid foster parent rates. You can bet I never went past the “regular caregiver rates”! I struggled with poverty and still attempted to make a difference in children’s lives.. and I DID! But so many youth, after they age out, live in a disconnected state of poverty and hopelessness! Some are living on the street.. because they do not know their culture or their families and sadly, some have committed suicide!

    Chrissy Johnny on January 29th, 2015 Reply This Comment ::
  • We should have a land claim all right. A BIG land claim. Like we have been singing for years in our National Anthem (O Canada) – ” Our Home and NATIVE Land “

    william belick on February 3rd, 2015 Reply This Comment ::
    • Richard c. Powless- Very well written

      william belick on February 3rd, 2015 Reply This Comment ::
  • I know that in the past a lot of injustices were committed against First Nations people. You go to any other country and you will find the same things have happened or are happening. But my question is “why am is this generation being asked to pay for injustices/ crimes committed by past generations?” It is like putting the son in jail for a crime the father committed.

    Mad on February 3rd, 2015 Reply This Comment ::

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1 Comment in Response to "A Short Note To Correct Canadian Misconceptions About Indians Living Off “Taxpayer Monies”"

  • It is not like that at all. The government that you are a citizen of legally commits its citizens to many things. If Canada’s government commits Canada to support the UN, you cannot opt out of that support. In the same way, Canada made legal commitments in the past that it cannot simply walk away from.

    Mike on April 20th, 2015 Reply This Comment ::

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