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Charles Trimble: A deadly time for our tribal allies in Canada

Filed Under: Canada | Opinion
More on: charles trimble, mark trahant, ncai, sam deloria, termination

Several weeks ago I was sent a link to an ominous report from the First Nations Strategic Policy Counsel, dated June-October 2012. It puzzles me that I haven’t read anything about it in or on other blogs, nor in any Native American news periodical. Nor, apparently, has the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) come out with any statement of support for our tribal allies in Canada.

The FNSPC report reads as follows:
“On September 4th the (Canadian Prime Minister) Harper government clearly signaled its intention to:

“1) Focus all its efforts to assimilate First Nations into the existing federal and provincial orders of government of Canada;

“2) Terminate the constitutionally protected and internationally recognized Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights of First Nations.

“Termination in this context means the ending of First Nations pre-existing sovereign status through federal coercion of First Nations into Land Claims and Self-Government Final Agreements that convert First Nations into municipalities, their reserves into fee simple lands and extinguishment of their Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.”
That all seems pretty straight forward as an imminent threat; then why the silence?

With NCAI’s silence, the question must be asked, “Is there some international Native protocol that might be offended by prying into their issues to express support of tribal brothers and sisters below the border? Or are there covert strategic sessions going on now on how to go about this?

The silence is deafening.

A man who blogs by the name of Grey Wolf has been promoting moral support for a Canadian woman Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat people, in her ongoing hunger strike against the Termination legislation of Canadian PM Harper.

Grey Wolf urges in a late blog: “TURTLE ISLAND NOW! EVERYONE should take a few minutes of their time to call and let Harper know that the world is watching and we will no longer tolerate this injustice!”

I have contacted good friends and knowledgeable confidants to ask their opinion on the matter. Indian Country’s top journalist Mark Trahant suggests that history tells us what a threat the Canadian termination movement portends:

Says Trahant, “It seems to me that the original context for termination (in the U.S.) was economic. It was post WWII when the federal budget was being cut across the board. This is very much like what is happening now in Canada. It's also about to happen in the US.”

Sam Deloria, my Dakota brother, expresses it brilliantly in his response:

“The apparent consideration by the Canadian Government of what appears to be a Termination Policy for the First Nations people and their political body brings several things to mind.

“First, it makes me wonder about the Canadian political leadership that is entertaining such a move. For the last several decades, Canada has been compiling an honorable record in coming to terms with the land rights, and cultural and other rights of the Native First Nation Peoples. Now it seems that the nation is heedless of its reputation – why repudiate treaties and other agreements entered into in good faith? Doesn’t the country’s reputation matter?

“Why agree to the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and then undertake policies completely at variance with its spirit and letter? Is the message not only that Canada’s word means nothing, its agreement to an international document meaningless, but that indigenous people are not people to whom it owes any fidelity?

“Second, I am disappointed at the apparent lack of response from indigenous peoples throughout the world to these Canadian proposals. People must understand that the usefulness of international recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples is not in giving a new category to Native rhetoric in Canada and in other countries, especially the US. It is certainly not in any possible hope that the UN will ever intervene in a situation adversely affecting indigenous peoples. But what the DRIP can do is make it possible for tribes and national organizations in the US to pressure the US Government to take a stand, to acknowledge the relevance of DRIP to this situation, and to apply pressure to the Government of Canada to keep its word and to take no precipitous actions that will damage the First Nations or its relations with them or in any way repudiate the word of the Government and the People of Canada.

“I would like to see strong pressure applied by the US tribes and their national organizations directed to the Governments of Canada and the US, calling them each to take appropriate steps to protect the interests of the First Nations and their people.

“And finally, I think it is important for the tribes and Native peoples of the United States to realize how thin is the veneer of civilization, and how fragile are the promises the US has made to its Native people and the bases for the recognition in US law of the political existence of tribal sovereignty. As might happen in Canada, a bad political season could bring about a complete change in climate in the US in a very short time.”

That says it well: At the risk of being judged a lazy journalist, I felt obliged to quote Sam’s concise analysis and warning in its entirety.

We are – or many of our national tribal leaders are – perhaps too smug in the affirmation of our sovereignty even at the White House level; but it isn’t an issue of a threat to our sovereignty, which is permanently ours as Native tribes, but an issue of whether or not we will be able to continue exercising our sovereignty in self-government. Whether or not we want to admit it, our government-to-government relationship and our dependency on the U.S. trust relationship are real and very important. That is what termination threatens.

Happy New Year to all.

Charles "Chuck" Trimble, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, NE. He can be contacted at and his website is

Related Stories:
Charles Trimble: An urban Indian Christmas in the Bay Area (12/24)
Charles Trimble: A shameless promotion for my book 'Iyeska' (11/26)
Charles Trimble: A political kiss of death from Lakota columnist (11/6)

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