Indigenous Nations and Modern States: The Political Emergence of Nations Challenging State Power

By Rudolph C. Rÿser | Go to book overview

4
FIRST NATIONS AND CANADA

My first-hand participation in the political transformation of “band councils” into “First Nations” during the period from 1970 through to 2006 began when I became an advisor to Chief George Manuel. I developed political strategies, drafted many of Manuel’s speeches and sat with him for hours discussing best approaches to advance the Indian agenda in Canada—traveling many times to Canada. The story is best told by describing how Grand Chief George Manuel single-handedly challenged the Canadian political establishment to win for Indian peoples on more than 500 reserves the recognized authority to practice nationcraft. Chief Manuel’s story about reaching for other nations including those in the United States, the Maori in New Zealand and the Sami of Scandinavia to form an international alliance to prevent Canada from confiscating Indian territories, demonstrates the power of one man’s commitment to aboriginal rights, aboriginal title and self-government. His story describes how Indian nations became a critical influence in the political development of Canada before and after Canada proclaimed an independently constituted state on April 17, 1981. Special attention is given to the “Constitution Express” where more than 600 individuals from as many First Nations organized into a massive lobbying force traveling across Canada by train to Ottawa to challenge government officials to recognize “aboriginal rights.”

Given that the state of Canada and the United States of America were born from the same mother, and consequently possess a very similar legal and political system rooted in England’s history, there are many similarities in the ways each state treats the original peoples of North America. The American Indian experience with the US legal and political system is, in many ways, mirrored in the First Nations’ experience with the Canadian legal and political system. Consequently, the development of a First Nations’ political movement in pursuit of political self-determination and the practice of nationcraft paralleled American Indian actions in the United States. Chief George Manuel asked me to serve as a strategic planning and political advisor to him shortly before and during the mobilization of First Nations as they pressed for Canada’s recognition of Indian self-determination. In this chapter, I briefly review the political tug-of-war between First Nations and the government of Canada over political

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