DECEMBER 2, 1981

During the 1980s things, in some ways, began to change radically. Legislation repatriating the Canadian Constitution from the United Kingdom was enacted by Canada's Parliament on December 2, 1981 - it was signed into law at a ceremony in Ottawa by Queen Elizabeth II on April 17, 1982. Some recognition was given to First Nations under Section 35, but this was no revolutionary development. A constitutional conference, mandatory under the provisions of the Constitution, was called to find a method to entrench First Nations self-government. The conference was held and it flopped. Canada was not yet willing to recognize First Nation inherent right to self-government, but at least the proposal is still on the table.

I attended the conference as an observer. The thing I recall most vividly was what a very highly placed provincial official said to an aide, in an unguarded moment, as he walked through the foyer of the building where the conference was being held. Not aware that I was within earshot he stated: "I don't give a fuck what those fucking Indians want, they're not getting it."

Inclusion of the word "Aboriginal" under Section 35 of the Canada Act without adequate definition of its meaning is beginning to cause all kinds of problems for First Nations. People are coming out of the woodwork claiming to be "Aboriginal." This is how the government receives them: Employment and Immigration Canada defines an "Aboriginal" as anyone "who perceives himself/herself to be a ... Indian." People who have marginal, if any, First Nations blood in their veins have availed themselves of this interpretation and are taking advantage of benefits normally reserved for Registered Indians.