An aboriginal leader from Northern Ontario has urged the Anglican Church of Canada to support aboriginal Canadians in demanding that both federal and provincial governments recognize and implement court rulings on First Nations treaty rights.
“Our agreed share of the benefits of resources is not happening, this is why our people are so poor,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy, who represents 49 First Nations communities within James Bay Treaty 9 territory and the Ontario portions of Treaty 5. “We need to provide jobs and training for our people, we’re not expecting taxpayers’ handout. What we would like is to enjoy the benefits of economic development.”
Mr. Beardy said the Ontario government has continually failed to recognize Treaty 5 (signed between the Crown and the Salteaux and Swampy Cree in 1873) and Treaty 9 (signed between the Crown and the Ojibway and Cree in 1905-1906).
“What we’re asking is for the Canadian government to respect its own constitution, which has ruled that treaties must be recognized,” said Mr. Beardy, who spoke to national church staff in Toronto on Jan. 21. “We need to discuss issues around user fees and share of taxes. We need to be consulted. There must be consent to do business in our land.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada told Mr. Beardy, “We will take your counsel and we will seek guidance as to how we will respond in ways that are both appropriate and effective.”
Archbishop Hiltz said that while the church has been focused on healing and reconciliation efforts with aboriginal Anglicans who were scarred by the legacy of the Indian residential schools, “what we have heard today is that that is just the tip of the iceberg.”
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Mr. Beardy said churches’ support for First Nations people is crucial because they “have the potential to influence the government on the directions and priorities it should take.”
On the issue of residential schools, Mr. Beardy expressed the hope that there would be “social safety nets” in place once the Truth and Reconciliation Commission begins its task of hearing the stories of former students of residential schools. “You’ll be talking about a lot of pain, abuses that took place a long time ago,” he said, adding that up to 90 per cent of his people have been directly or indirectly affected by the residential schools.
Mr. Beardy said his organization has been providing counselling and workshops about budgets to help former students handle compensation money that they receive as part of the revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.