|What is the Meaning of Sovereignty?|
|Written by Alma de Mujer - Sharon H. Venne|
|Monday, 18 June 2007|
What is the Meaning of Sovereignty?
At the time of the creation, the Creator placed Indigenous Peoples  on Great Turtle Island  to live the laws given to us. In the hundred of thousand years that Indigenous Peoples have lived in Indigenous America, we have followed the laws of the Creation. Indigenous Peoples know one thing for sure: Human Beings were the last of the creation and everything else is older than us. It is our responsibility to care for and live with Creation as all of the creation is older than humans. As Indigenous Peoples, our obligation is to follow the laws of the Creation. We are not given life to destroy the older parts of creation. As part of our original instructions, Indigenous Peoples have to live with the creation. When something is taken from the Creation, thanks is given. If a wrong is committed against the creation, restitution must take place. There is a rhythm to the circle of life. As things ebb and peak, Indigenous Peoples pace ourselves within the creation. This is the meaning of sovereignty for an Indigenous Person who comes from Great Turtle Island. It is not a foreign concept brought by the colonizers to Indigenous America. We are born as sovereign beings. As many of the Elders tell us, Indigenous Peoples are free peoples who are constantly being attacked by the colonizers for being free human beings.
Our struggles as sovereign Peoples is to live the laws of the Creation. Our struggle to keep our freedom to do so in Indigenous America. Our fight began with the arrival of the colonizers in 1492. Columbus came across the pond with his greed. He put greed in front to destroy the creation. The Indigenous Peoples' roles and responsibilities have been challenged with the arrival of Columbus. He arrived like a disease spreading across our lands eating and devouring everything in its path. The colonizer's disease infects and annihilates. Amidst the destruction of our mother - the earth, Indigenous Peoples struggle to maintain our relationship to the Creation. There is no denying that many Indigenous Peoples have been consumed by the colonizers. We only have to look at the statistics of the number of Indigenous Nations that have disappeared from Indigenous America to know that the consumption can be total and complete. Those remaining Indigenous Nations have the burden to carry on the original instructions. Indigenous Peoples must continue to care for the creation regardless of the actions by the colonizers. This law does not change. This essay is about the role of treaty making by sovereign Indigenous Nations in the northern part of Indigenous America.
Royal Proclamation of 1763
When the colonizers arrived on the northern part of Great Turtle Island, they were mostly from the British Isles carrying English common law with them. When they came into our territories, their own laws dictated the need to have our consent to enter our territories. In getting our consent, the Crown of England entered into Treaties with the various Indigenous Nations living along the eastern shores of Great Turtle Island. As they moved into the interior, they continued the practise of Treaty-making. At one point in time, the French also tired to have a foothold on Great Turtle Island. When, they were defeated by the British in the 1760's the British decided to codify their policy of treaty making with Indigenous Peoples. In 1763, King George III proclaimed by a Proclamation that the law in relation to entering into Indigenous territories. Settlers and the agents of the Crown of England needed to follow certain procedures prior entering Indigenous territories. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was proclaimed prior to coming into existence of the United States of America or Canada. Both countries are colonial countries of the British Crown and are bound by the provisions of the Royal Proclamation. This is significant for a number of reasons. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 set forth the British Crown's laws in relation to land negotiations with Indigenous Peoples. In Part IV, the Crown recognized that Indigenous lands possessed anywhere by Indigenous Peoples remained their lands unless or until a Treaty was concluded with the Crown for the Crown to access such lands. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was the codification of international legal standards existing at the time. The Crown could not enter into lands owned and occupied by another sovereign Peoples without an agreement otherwise there would be a war. The British Crown and the United States of America did not want to waste its limited resources to enter into a wars with Indigenous Peoples.
By virtue of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Indigenous Peoples were protected against the incursion by other European states. In effect, Great Britain use of the Royal Proclamation recognized the sovereignty of the Indigenous Peoples living in the northern part of Indigenous America. There was also a recognition that the way to deal with Indigenous Nations was through a peaceful means by concluding treaties with us. The passage of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 affected the rights of the British and the subjects of the Crown but did not alter or change the legal status of the Indigenous Peoples. The Royal Proclamation recognizes that the Indigenous Peoples and Nations inhabiting Indigenous America are sovereign Peoples with territories, governments and their own legal system. The Proclamation is binding on the subjects and servants of the Crown to act in a certain manner and way in relation to Indigenous Peoples. What is the significance of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 on the discussion of sovereignty in 1998?
United Nations Treaty Study 
When the Crown's subjects started to colonize Indigenous America, they were happy to enter into Treaties  with Indigenous Peoples. These agreements were concluded within the Indigenous territories following Indigenous laws.  Indigenous governments negotiating with the Crown's representatives to allow the Crown's subjects to have access in our lands and territories. The Crown's representatives did not need to enact any legislation to empower our governments or to give us any laws. We were living within our territories under our own laws using our own governments for thousands of years prior to the colonizers arriving. Indigenous Nations have a very defined method for entering into Treaties. Our ancestors had been entering into Treaties with other Indigenous Peoples prior to the arrival of the colonizers. Treaty making was not a new concept for Indigenous Peoples. It was not a concept brought across the pond by the colonizers. For example, the Cree had negotiated and entered into a Treaty with their neighbours - the Dene- prior to the arrival of the colonizers. That peace treaty remains in force to this day.
In our Nations, we had a fully functioning governments that allows all citizens to be involved with the operation of the government. In the Cree governmental structure, there is a place for everyone including the children. This is vastly different from the structure of government that existed within Europe at the time of contact with Indigenous America. Europe at the time of contact was for the most part a brutal feudal system. There were no democracies. Only the males with connections to the land were allowed to participate in some discussions. For the most part, their participation in any decision making processes was limited. The decisions making process was very different within the Cree communities at Treaty making a fact not generally acknowledged by the written history of the colonizers. But, the oral history of the Elders tells us a different story. This essay focuses on the Indigenous history of treaty making since the recent final report of the United Nations Treaty Study has given greater credit to the history of the Elders. Treaties are critical for us. The Treaty making process confirmed our relationship with the colonizers. There was a recognition by the representatives of the Crown of England that these agreements were between two equal parties. The Treaty relationship set out a permanent relationship of peace and friendship. Over the years, Canada who did not enter into Treaties with our ancestors has attempted to diminish and disregard the Treaties. The state of Canada has inferred that the Treaties were not real Treaties. There is an attempt to diminish the worth of the agreements into something less than international agreements. Indigenous Peoples from Indigenous America who were descendants of treaty making nations went to the United Nations in the 1970's to get redress for the wrongs committed against them by the colonial states. The result of the lobby effort was the Treaty Study which will be discussed in this essay.
In 1876, the representatives  of the Queen  came to our Peoples and wanted to enter into Treaty. Our Peoples listened, they heard the plight of the poor living in Europe who had no lands, no future and no hope. The Treaty Commissioner told our Elders and leads that the Queen wanted the Indigenous Peoples to share some of our lands with the incoming settlers for them to have a future and to have hope. Our Elders and leadership discussed the request and decided that they would open some of our lands to the settlers. The Treaty Commission told our Elders that the Queen did not have enough money to purchase our lands. The Queen only wanted lands for the purpose of settlement. At that time, settlement meant farming. The Treaty Commissioner referred to the depth of a plow as the amount of land requested. The settlers would use the land to grow crops and feed themselves. The rest of the territory was to remain within the jurisdiction and under the control of the Indigenous Peoples. In return for the use of some lands, the Crown was to provide certain guarantees. At the end of the process, our Indigenous governments agreed to a formal agreement known as a Treaty with the Crown's representative. Our Elders and leadership never sold any lands at the time of the Treaty. We could never sell, surrender, cede our lands to the colonizers. These lands and territories were given to us by the Creator. The land makes us. We do no make the land. To sell or give up the lands is to give up ourselves. If Indigenous Peoples give up the lands, then what happens to the future generations? They will have nothing to live with and care for. They would be lost people. So, our Elders and leadership could not break the fundamental laws of the Creation by selling or giving up our lands. Under our Cree legal system, the laws direct that we are the caretakers of the lands, resources, forests, waters, all living and non-living beings. It is not possible for us to sell them. In our Indigenous language, there are no words for sell, cede or surrender our territories and lands. These Indigenous legal facts have been acknowledged and accepted by the UN Special Rapporteur in his final report on the Treaty Study. When we entered into Treaty with the British Crown in 1876, we agreed to share our lands to the depth of the plow. In return, the Crown agreed to provide certain benefits to our peoples. It was to be prepayment for the use of our lands and territories. In European terms, rent monies was a known concept. Within the Indigenous legal system, it was also a known concept. Money might not have been known but the idea that for the use of something, there was to be some compensation. For example, when an Indigenous person is to take anything from the Creation, there needs to be some gift back to the Creation. The payment via benefits for the use of the land was not an unknown concept. The English system was based on the feudal system of the serfs and land users paying tribute or something to the lord of the lands. Our legal system was based on respect for the Creation. The Commissioner agreed that the future generations of the Queen's subjects would make payment for the use of the lands for as long as the sun shines and the water flow. These agreements did not have any expiry date.
When Treaty Six was entered into in 1876, the state of Canada did not have any international legal status. It was a colony of Great Britain. All the decisions related to international matters were made by the Crown and government of Great Britain. Canada did not have any international legal status until after the passage in 1931 of the Statute of Westminster by the House of Commons and Lords in London, England. By virtue of this statue, Canada was given international ability to enter into agreements with other states without mother England co-signing. Canada did sign a treaty in 1923 with the United States of America called: The Pacific Halibut Fishing Treaty. Subsequently, the Treaty was ratified by the Parliament and Crown in Great Britain. So, Canada was in 1923 still a minor without full international authority to enter into Treaties. It is clear at this point that Canada did not enter into Treaty Six with the Cree and our allies in 1876. While, the Cree had the necessary international legal personality to enter into Treaties with the British Crown, Canada did not have such authority. This makes the state of Canada try all kinds of methods to become a party to the Treaties. There is only one way for them to be a party to our Treaties. Both sides have to agree to admit them. Neither party to the Treaties have agreed to admit Canada as a party. Not to say that Canada did not try to become a party during the patriation of their Constitution from England. When Canada was patriating their Constitution from Great Britain in 1982, Treaty Indigenous Peoples went to court in England to protect our Treaties. Treaty Indigenous Peoples mounted a challenge to the legal authority of the Canadian government to change or amend our Treaties without our consent. In a decision of the British Court of Appeal, Lord Denning affirmed that the Treaties were as good as the day that they were concluded. The Indigenous governments and legal systems used by the Indigenous Peoples to enter into Treaties continued to be in effect. Further, Lord Denning wrote that no parliament or legislature of Canada can make changes to the Treaties without the consent of the Indigenous Peoples. So, Great Britain was not going to change the Treaty relationship with the sovereign Indigenous Peoples living in the northern part of Great Turtle Island.
In Canada, there are provinces created within the constitution of Canada. However, the provinces did not enter into Treaties with Indigenous Peoples. In Treaty Six, the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta were created over the Treaty area. The creation of the provinces and their authority to make rules and regulations over certain matters has played havoc with Indigenous Peoples. These municipal governments who have no international persona have attempted to legislate the treaties out of existence. Through hunting regulations, they have attempted to stop Treaty Peoples from using the animals given to us by the Creator. The non-indigenous people can pay money to the provinces and hunt our animals. The animals are disappearing. As a result in the change of diet, our Peoples are developing diseases previously unknown to our peoples. Diabetes is on the rise due to the poor nutrition. The non-indigenous people who have no spiritual connection with creation are using our animals for sport. When the Treaty Commission was negotiating the Treaty, he told our peoples that the Crown did not want our animals, our fish and our birds. They were going to bring their own animals. Elders still want to know how the non-indigenous people have access to use our animals, our fish and our birds. For the non-indigenous people, they see all living beings  as a means to make money, to use and to consume. The constitutional system of Canada permits the Treaties to be violated by the provinces. Until the Treaty study, there was no means to fight against such incursions into the Treaties. The study has made recommendations for Indigenous Peoples to access remedies outside of the colonial states. While the provinces in Canada are licensing the clear cutting of our forests, the overfishing of our fish, the destruction of our animals, our obligations and responsibilities given to us by the Creator have been placed under tremendous stress. Although the provinces have no rights to our Treaties, there is an attempt to take over our responsibilities to the Creation. As Treaty Peoples, we cannot accept the position of the provinces have a voice in our treaties. When we entered into Treaties, our governments functioned to protect us against future interference. The colonial state of Canada has developed a policy on self-government. This self-government policy is an attempt to subvert the sovereign governments of our Indigenous Nations. They want to replace the Indigenous governments that have been functioning since the time of Creation with their own version of government. While their own governments do not appear to function for their citizens, they are attempting to impose a model on Indigenous Peoples.
The colonial government of Canada assume that they can give us a governmental structures. These so-called self-government policies have been advanced across the country in an attempt to subvert our sovereignty and our governments. No colonial state can give us a government. The colonial state cannot grant us a government. Our governments are as old as time. The colonial state of Canada can recognize and respect our governments. Granting us a government is not within the jurisdiction of the colonial state of Canada. Canada was created by Great Britain and its parliament. Our governments were created and operated on Great Turtle Island since the beginning of time. There is a distributing development in Canada in relation to the policy initiative. Some Indigenous Peoples are negotiating and entering into "self-governing" arrangements. There are some Indigenous Peoples who are openly discussing the kind of self-government that Canada is going to give them. These are the lost souls of the colonization process. They have forgotten who they are and where they are. They are the descendants of the Indigenous Peoples of Indigenous America. This is a form of domestication of the Nations. They are giving up their sovereign rights to be part of the colonial state. In the final report of the Treaty Rapporteur, Dr. Martinez reviewed the issue of domestication of the Treaties by various state governments. Domestication of Treaties and the Indigenous Nations is a critical issue for the sovereignty of Indigenous Nations. If an Indigenous Nation agrees to bring itself under the jurisdiction and laws of a colonial state, they are relinquishing their international status as nations and peoples who are entitled to international legal remedies. In the words of one Canadian state representative at the Commission on Human Rights who referred to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada as "Our" Indigenous Peoples. Owned by the colonial state and no longer a matter of international concern - a domestic problem like rounding up the chickens for the chicken coop in the evening.
There have many processes developed in Canada for the domestication of the Indigenous Nations. In all cases, there needs to be a vote by the citizens of the Indigenous Nation to give up their sovereignty and come under the colonial state. It can be done through the development of Tribal Governments with constitutions approved by the colonial state. It can be done through Treaty Land Entitlement Agreements (TLE) whereby the Indigenous Peoples agree to take monies to purchase lands. If you take monies to purchase lands then there is an assumption that you sold the lands at the time of the Treaty making. This is contrary to the laws of the Creator and the obligation that Indigenous Peoples have to the Creation. Land Claims or modern Treaties are two other means to relinquish your international sovereign rights. There is no such thing as a modern treaty. It is a treaty or not a treaty. The Vienna Convention on Treaties makes no definition for Treaties and modern Treaties. It is Treaty - full spot or not a Treaty. Canada has taken to using the term "modern Treaty" in attempt to disguise their true intentions to have Indigenous Peoples relinquish our rights to our lands, territories and governments. No government can take away our sovereignty unless we consent to give it up.
Our struggle as Indigenous Peoples is to live the laws of the Creator. We continue to build our nations. As one of the longest wars in the history of mankind continues without an end insight, Indigenous Peoples are entering the five hundred and sixth year of the struggle to remain on Great Turtle Island. As the lands, the waters, the animals, the fish and creation struggles to survive, Indigenous Peoples continue to perish off our Mother- the earth. Who is going to live the laws of the Creation when Indigenous Peoples no longer live and care for the earth? The earth is trying to clean itself with water, with fire, with wind. Indigenous Peoples are listening to the cries of the earth. We continue to do our ceremonies. We continue to live the laws of Creation. Is it enough to save the earth from destruction? As the disease of greed spreads itself like a blanket smothering all of the Creation's breath. As Indigenous Peoples, we know that we are the youngest of Creation. We have an obligation to the older of Creation. It is well known that all of Creation was alive and existing prior to the arrival of mankind. If man disappeared tomorrow, the Creation would continue to exist and thrive. But, if Creation is destroyed, man cannot survive without the Creation. Man is the youngest and the weakest of the Creation. We know the laws given to us by the Creator. It is an obligation. It is a duty. It is the future of our childrens' children. We cannot like the non-indigenous people who make rules and regulations and change them when they don't like the rule or regulation. We were given the laws by the Creator. We have to live the laws. This is sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples.
 . In this essay, the term "Indigenous Peoples" is used. Early in the work at the United Nations, Indigenous
Peoples decided to identify ourselves as Indigenous - from the land or of the land. This word works for the Peoples who come from the lands. We have been colonized and we have not yet had the opportunity to decolonize ourselves. In many areas of the world, Indigenous Peoples have been able to decolonize themselves and claim their rightful place in the family of nations. Most of the Indigenous Peoples of Indigenous America have not been able to exercise their rights to decolonize ourselves. While our Indigenous languages give us our names for ourselves, these names are not readily translated. Indigenous Peoples decided that "native", "aboriginal", "Indian", "Indios", "heathen", "pagan" and many other names would not longer apply to ourselves. These names were given to us by the colonizers who occupy our lands. We must continue to retake our position as subjects of laws rather than as objects.
 . As a Cree, our creation story places us on the back of Turtle which floats on the water. We refer to Indigenous America as Great Turtle Island. In this essay, there is no references to North America, South America, Central America or another other colonizer names. If there is a need to use "america", it is preferred that the reference be to Indigenous America which means the whole of the Americas while Great Turtle Island refers to the northern part of Indigenous America.
 . The United Nations Treaty Study was adopted by the Human Rights Commission. Resolution 1989/41 of 6 March 1989 endorsed the work of the Special Rapporteur - Miguel Alfonso-Martinez to undertake a study on the potential utility of treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between Indigenous Peoples and state governments. There were four parts to his report: a preliminary report and three progress reports. The final draft report was tabled at the 1998 Working Group on Indigenous Peoples at the end of July. The draft will be discussed in detail at the 1999 Working Group on Indigenous Peoples. At the end of the discussion, the final report will be transmitted to the Sub-commission, to the Commission on Human Rights and to the Economic and Social Council. The final report brings alive the discussion related to Treaties and Treaty making of Indigenous Peoples as subjects of international law.
 . Since the author comes from a Treaty area presently within the state of Canada, the essay will concentrate on the making of Treaties within Canada. However, this does not mean that the treaty-making process within the present - United States of America was different. Both colonial governments get their authority to exist from the English common law which includes the Royal Proclamation as part of the colonial legal system inherited by both countries.
 . For a complete review of the full powers to negotiate a Treaty based on Cree laws see: Sharon H. Venne, "Understanding Treaty Six: An Indigenous Perspective" in M. Asch, ed., Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Canada (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1997).
 . The Order-in-Council that set in place the negotiators and their authorities to negotiate. They were known as Treaty Commissioners in present-day western Canada. They were usually sent from the eastern part of Canada to the west with specific instructions based on the Order-in-Councils. The Imperial Order-in-Council from 1870 set out the provisions of the Treaty Commissioner for Treaty Six negotiated and concluded in 1876.
 . The Queen is Queen Victoria of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. There was no reference in Treaty Six to the colony of Canada.
 . The Human Genome Diversity Project is another way to make money. In this case, the scientists would use our genetic make-up to make money. So our bodies are being colonized and consumed. That is the subject of another essay: "Whose Jeans are these anyway?"(unpublished).
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