Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak and (Human) Treaty Rights

On September 18, 2013 the Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs came to the University of Manitoba to give his vision for treaty rights and relations between First Nations (or Status Indians - there was a whole debate surrounding this term) and the federal government.  GC Nepinak has been very controversial in the past year having very closely aligned himself with the Idle No More movement and has presented a opposing vision of the relations that should exist between First Nations and the Federal government. While some have accused him of trying to destroy the Assembly of First Nations when you hear CG Nepinak speak you hear someone who is concerned that the current system is not working for First Nations peoples and the current approach in dealing with the federal government is in fact not allowing First nations to be strong and self-reliant peoples, but peoples living in dependence. 

GC Nepinak has now set up another national organization of a Treaty Alliance which hopes to bring recogogniztion and respect of the treaties that have been signed by the crown and First Nations. He was introduced by Dr Niiganan Sinclair (UManitoba). He partially addressed the idea that his work is not only so he may challenge for the position of GC of the Assembly of First Nations, but promote greater understanding between Aboriginal peoples and Canadians. He certainly demonstrates that he does not beleive the approach used by current AFM leadership is working. I should note he never actually said he was interested in being CG of the AFN, but there seems to be an undercurrent pushing him to this position.

CG Nepinak is asking for a return to a original understanding of the treaties. It is a very difficult line to walk between building and destruction An Elder said to me it is easier to destroy than to build or we can live in two ways, the path of chaos or the path of the good life. It will certainly be an on going debate for years to come. If the work of GC Nepinak in Manitoba and all treaty territories to change the way First Nation peoples deal in their relations with the federal government and all Canadians starts gaining greater traction, we must remember where it started. 

To Learn More (Video)


  1. Indeed, if the work of Grand Chief Nepinak in Manitoba and all treaty territories to change the way First Nation peoples deal in their relations with the federal government and all Canadians starts gaining greater traction, we must remember where it started ( This is a very distinguished elder who in my humble opinion is pursuing a worthy cause. While I will admit my knowledge of AFN and AMC related information in is narrow I do however feel passionately about Nepinak’s work. When Nepinak became Chief, the community of Pine Creek was in third party management and had defaulted on many of its CMHC mortgages. Several garnishees were registered against the band and third party managers controlled all INAC funds. INAC contribution agreements were in default and reporting standards were nonexistent. The band had also lost its bison herd and community morale was considerably low. In nine months, Chief Nepinak implemented financial and administrative controls and was able to take the community out of third party management ( This undoubtedly represents a man of great dignity. Furthermore, Nepinak has raised $4 Million dollars in new housing investments, as well as remove all provincial garnishees. Today, Pine Creek First Nation sits in strong financial position and recently re-introduced a new small herd of purebred Wood bison back into the community though a partnership purchase agreement with the Skownan First Nation.
    The idea here is simple; the hard work of Aboriginal leaders such as Nepinak must be remembered as the strong push that will in fact change history as we know it. You do not have to dig deep to recognize the subtle ways in which governments maintain a steady attack against the lives of Indigenous people. As a result, organizations like AMC are in a constant battle to combat against strategic tactics, words, and policies that are intended to sway public opinion in a way to discredit Indigenous people and their leadership. At the end of the day this is the perfect example of Nepinak and others working for the grassroots people of their community. If one looks past that fact then they have simply missed the whole point.

  2. There are so many interesting issues raised in Grand Chief Nepinak’s talk that I’m honestly at a loss for where to begin. Since my space here is limited I’ll touch on what he had to say about treaty recognition and the original treaty spirit that sought to intertwine Indigenous and European economic models for the benefit of both peoples.
    In our first blog post of the year I remember Robert commenting on one of the student’s posts, suggesting that some Indigenous leaders seemed more preoccupied with land that with education. I think what often passes for First Nations pursuit of comprehensive land claims settlements is typically a far more substantial question that cuts to the heart of how education could be funded in First Nations communities. We have often talked in class about the difficult financial position facing First Nations leaders seeking to fund initiatives such as education. Inability to levy taxes on reserve has more often than not been highlighted as the culprit, however, this elides the far more salient issue; what is there to tax? I feel that Chief Nepinak rather concisely laid out a scheme that would address the material prosperity of First Nations people, remove the paternalistic framework of the Indian Act, and honor treaty relationships between First Nations, as well as between First Nations and the state. No one, let alone the Grand Chief, is suggesting that this will be an easy task, but to dismiss it outright as “blue sky” thinking, as our Prime Minister has is cynical and damaging to the relationship between settler society and First Nations. Without a new (and no that doesn’t mean a new Conservative initiated bill proclaimed without consultation funding formula for education in First Nations communities the problem will only worsen. That seems to me to be some “cloudy sky” thinking. Having a strong resource base, and yes sometimes that means (gasp!) land, or a fixed interest in resource projects as was included in the Paix des Braves ( in Quebec is a solid strategy to generate the funds to improve education in First Nations communities. As Nepinak points out, it’s not a handout, it’s a recognition of the very principles on which treaties were agreed upon.
    Although addressing treaty issues is often seen as a matter to be taken up with the federal government, because of a very literal reading of Section 91 (24) of the Canadian Constitution, Nepinak raises the idea that provincial governments are also a necessary site of struggle for the recognition of existing treaty rights. Although the provinces often like to plead not responsible on treaty adherence, they have had few qualms about taking advantage of lands reserved for First Nations. Manitoba has a particularly shady historical (and present!) record on such matters, including the example of Red Sucker Lake vs. Mega Precious Metals (which I raised with Dr. Gerrard when he visited our class) and more overtly in its dealings with northern First Nations, or lack thereof, while building our multi-billion dollar hydro industry on treaty protected lands. If anyone wishes to know more about the latter I highly recommend the book Power Struggles ( Prior to hydro’s incursion upon traditional lands many northern communities possessed the material wealth to provide for their childrens’ education and well-being. Oddly enough hydro engineers often happily engaged in “blue sky” thinking, they just didn’t think to long about treaty relationships.

  3. Its nice to see that Derek Nepinak came to the University of Manitoba to spread his knowledge on how treaty rights and relations should be between first nations peoples and the government of Canada. Derek also states that the current system for first nations people is not working when dealing with the government. This is not allowing first nations people to be strong and self reliant peoples, but peoples living in dependance. I understand that the current system is not working for aboriginal peoples but I do not think the government is to blame completely. A CBC Winnipeg news article states that the Peguis First Nation chief and councilors made a salary of between 206,000 and 310,000 in 2008. The article also states that caps have been implemented so the chief can only make 170,000 and councilors at 140,000. To put this into perspective the mayor of Winnipeg makes 114,052 and the premier at 153,769. I think there needs to be more accountability on some reserves first before the treaty rights and relations with the government can change. How can there be more self reliance if there is that kind of gap between the leaders of reserve and its people. The article also stated that many other reserves leaders make between 40,000-70,000 a year. In my personal opinion I think that is fair for the amount of work. I think the other money should be used to better the community like Mr. Nepinak did in Pine Creek First Nation. I believe that there needs to be a change in first nations and government relations but there also needs to be more accountability by some leaders in the some first nations communities so that the communities can become stronger and grow.

  4. The issue of treaty rights is certainly a controversial one. It seems to be a no-win situation for everybody. The National Treaty Alliance ( states as part of its mission statement:

    “1. honour the commitments made in the Treaties and recognize that sacred title to the land and resources remains with the Sovereign Treaty indigenous nations;
    2. acknowledge and respect the original jurisdiction and sovereignty of the Indigenous Sovereign Nations and the rights that flow therefrom”.

    This seems reasonable to expect, but the problem I see with it is that in insisting on the idea of a “sovereign nation”, do the persons in these sovereign nations remain citizens of Canada? Do they even want to be a part of Canada as a nation? Or does this refer to a nation within a nation? The NTA also states that, “We, the Original Peoples, have always made our own laws, insti-tutions and jurisdiction, which is reflected in our cultures, values and languages.” How do these laws, institutions and jurisdiction work together with those of Canada’s. If there is to be a separate sovereign nation with its own infrastructure, I think it needs to be kept entirely separate. The problem then is the mobility between the laws of Aboriginal peoples and the laws of the nation of Canada. I’m not saying that these details could never be worked out and I’m not even saying that I disagree with the notion, but there are lots of logistics that would arise as a result of these principles. Reconciling the sovereignty of First Nations Peoples and the intent of the Treaties to the current way the system works is a long road ahead. As Robert said, it is a fine line between building and destruction. My hope is that whatever approach is taken will build the relationships between the nations rather than destroy them.

  5. “The current approach in dealing with the federal government is in fact not allowing First Nations to be strong and self-reliant peoples, but peoples living in dependence” (, Blog from Wed, Oct. 16, 2013). I took this quote directly from your blog, as you can see. Needless to say that I think this line says a lot about where we stand today. I don’t think that this is simply limited to the First Nations (Status Indian, however you or others choose to identify the First Peoples of Canada); this line could be applied really to anyone relying on the Social Welfare System in general. It goes back to what was said in a previous posting, that to throw money at an issue is to create a society of people who are not independent but completely reliant on the government for support and survival. I think that must be what is meant by the above line. To simply keep asking for funds and government support is definitely not the way to gain independence. If the First Nations people wish to be an independent people then maybe it’s time for the government to step up and put for real solutions instead of simply offering more money to make amends for a situation.
    I don’t necessarily agree with the way in which Grand Chief Derek Nepinak has approached this issue; however it can’t be denied that these issues have needed to be addressed for some time now. I think that anyone who is going to address these issues will evoke some form of controversy. I mean it is a controversial topic to begin with. I don’t feel that it was his intent to be controversial. Although I’m still not entirely sure what he wants to accomplish with brining these issues forward, I do think that he has done something right. I mean even if it wasn’t his initial intent, he got people talking and questioning the current state of things with the First Nations people.
    The issues and controversies surrounding the Treaties go back as far as the day the very first one was signed, and there is still so much controversy surrounding them. For example, some argue that they may not even be considered legal, as the First Nations people who signed them were not able to read and write, so how did they understand or know what they were signing. So, there’s that, in addition other people are wondering if they are even valid anymore, as the country has changed and grown so much over the centuries since the original Treaties were drawn up and signed. I don’t really know where I stand on the questions surrounding the Treaties. I guess something to think about is whether the Treaties are valid still today or not. The Treaties flawed as they are (for example they don’t have any clause stating that the monetary payment should account for inflation. It has stayed at five dollars, even though now it is more symbolic than useful), are undeniably an important part of our heritage and country. After all, “we are all Treaty people”.

  6. “There’s a growing sense that something needs to happen – that people need an alternative,” - Grand Chief Derek Nepinak.
    Those words were spoken by Chief Nepinak this past April in regards to how treaties in Canada are implemented. Grand Chief Nepinak, I found personally, to be very eloquent and delivered a very relevant point about how treaty rights in modern Canada are regarded, and I think that this is inextricably tied to us as educators. Treaties, which are legal, binding contracts, are still being violated by the federal government. But, Chief Nepinak is really trying to address this by attempting to regain balance and recognition from the Canadian government; a balance and reconfiguration of education, health and quality of life for our aboriginal peoples. Gloria Galloway, a writer for The Globe and Mail, highlighted some of these issues in her article entitled Emerging First Nations leader says indigenous rights ‘transcend’ any piece of legislation. She notes that the “spotlight [is on] the moral platforms of Canada because every government really has an obligation to respect the treaties and to make them effective. He [Mr. Nepinak] sees that very, very clearly. He sees the injustice of it all”. Chief Nepinak continues to say that the current Prime Minister cannot help them [the aboriginal nations] get back to the balance that they once held. The only way in which these cultures can regain balance is by having the Canadian government and Indian Affairs regulate and enforce the all of the aspects of the treaties. The Canadian government has the duty to help and care for the aboriginal peoples, but unfortunately, as Chief Nepinak believes, aboriginal peoples fall outside the rights and freedoms that are afforded to non-native, non-status Canadians. All aboriginal peoples are born with that status, as noted by Chief Nepinak. No one decides who is status or non-status, but all people are treaty people. We have a duty to honour the agreements that were made years ago, but Canadians are failing to live up to our promises. We need to begin looking at this, not as a political agenda, but as a violation of human rights.