Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 going to be observed?

Amid the anniversary commemorations ongoing and looming (the War of 1812, the First World War, John A.'s birth, confederation 150th), what is the state of attention to the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763?

It's something Stan Beardy, regional chief of the Chiefs of Ontario, would like to know. The Chiefs of Ontario recently sent the prime minister an open letter about the anniversary and the reasons for observing it.  Their statement is here, and full text of the letter is here. As the letter says;

The seminal importance of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 was recognized in volume I of the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. First Nation rights and freedoms recognized by the Proclamation are enshrined in article 25(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) and article 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982. The historical and legal significance of the Declaration has been recognized in several leading court decisions. In R.v. Secretary of State (1981), Lord Denning described the Declaration as being of “… high constitutional importance … ranked by the Indian peoples as their Bill of Rights, equivalent to our own Bill of Rights in England 80 years before.” In Calder v. BC (1973), Mr. Justice Hall of the Supreme Court of Canada held that the Proclamation “must be regarded as a fundamental document upon which any just determination of original rights rests.” To similar effect, the Proclamation has sometimes been described as the Magna Carta of First Nations in Canada.
Greatly to oversimplify, the Royal Proclamation established there would be no transfer of land from aboriginal nations to the Crown without a treaty between the Crown and the aboriginal nation in question.  Almost the whole of Canada is "Canadian," one might say, because of the treaties that flowed from the principle underlying the Royal Proclamation.

As long as the treaties were treated as simple surrenders in which we got Canada and the First Nations got reserves and a little welfare in exchange, the Royal Proclamation didn't seem very important, perhaps.  But as it becomes more widely recognized (as in the cases the chiefs cite) that every treaty was a negotiation in which First Nations presumed their continued self-government and their continued use and control of lands, the treaties come to be understood as central to the Canada/First Nations relationship.  And awareness of the significance of the Royal Proclamation, the fundamental statement of that reality, has risen.

The chiefs, who propose "a joint steering or organizing committee as soon as practicable" to plan a commemoration, are in touch with that.

Government in Ottawa, not so much, I guess.  Maybe there will have to be a people's celebration instead.

(Image: two-row wampum from
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