Bob Rae calls treaties the "trillion dollar exchange" that created two worlds we must now bridge

"It's ridiculous to think people would say: I have all this land, millions and millions and millions of acres of land, I'm giving it to you for a piece of land that is 5 miles by 5 miles and a few dollars a year.  To put it in terms of a real estate transaction, it's preposterous, it doesn't make any sense."

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"From the perspective of the government of Canada and of provinces, what the treaty said was this, First Nations give up all claim to the land, surrender absolutely any claim to the land, in exchange for which, they would get, depending on the treaty, either 4 dollars of 5 dollars a year, the right to continue to live on a reserve, the right to continue to hunt on traditional territory and some sense that they were being protected by the crown. The treaties were set up by the crown.  The treaties were set up to create the space for development.

"Clearing the Plains": getting people off their land

"The problem we have is that from a First Nations' perspective, that interpretation of the treaties doesn't make any sense, for a whole bunch of reasons, first of all because they would not see themselves as having title to the land in the same sense that Europeans would," Rae said. 

"The First Nations view of land, land belongs to the creator, the water belongs to the creator, the air belongs to the creator.  The relationship is not one of ownership but of stewardship, caring in perpetuity.  That's a different concept.  As one chief said to me, how can it be said I gave up something I never had?  How can I give up title?  I don't 'own' title.  But neither do you, Mrs. Crown or Mr. Crown.

"The federal and provincial governments are now saying we have to talk.  We have modern day discussions and in those modern day discussions, you have land being transferred, you have resource revenues being transferred, you have arrangements with respect to how prosperity will be shared.  

"We have two worlds.  We have two narratives.  We have two understandings.  And we have these gaps.  As the world of resource extraction moves further north and further west and the prospect of even more development is all around us, and the challenges of pollution and environmental damage are in front of us all the time, First Nations are saying, something's wrong with this picture. 

Some glimmers of light

"While we know that thanks to the Supreme Court's interpretation of Section 35, ...We've begun to see some hope of glimmer and light in what an interpretation of the law might be.

"I'm one who thinks we have to rely on politics as well as just litigation and going to court.  And in so doing, we have to almost shame the provincial and federal governments into saying, how can you possibly maintain that relationships that were enforced by you at the same time you were forcing children into residential schools? How can you say that can produce a relationship that can come to sharing resources?

"We cannot allow the Indian Act to define the nature of Indigenous status and culture in the country today.  We cannot allow someone else's interpretation of treaties to define who First Nations people are.  And that is going to require a greater degree of discussion as we try to see if it's possible to move the discussion in a completely different direction.

"I'm the lead negotiator on behalf of 9 First Nations.  We have a framework agreement in which the province says we will have an environmental assessment process which must be negotiated with you.  We will negotiate how to improve education health care and we will negotiate revenue sharing with you. Is it perfect? no.  Does it go far enough? No. It took a year to get that far.  But it's also a sign if people get together and assert authority and jurisdiction, this is the dialogue that needs to happen.

"That is the challenge we face today in Canada and to a much greater extent than people realize, how that development goes is going to be more up to First Nations than people might think.

"Beyond legal regulatory power, there is something called social license. The concept of social license changes over time.  There was a time when people could do things to the land and people would just say well that's just the way it is. People would build pipelines without any conservation.  Those days are gone.  And it is important for us as we go forward to continue a dialogue not only with governments and with industry but also among First Nations to build a deeper and stronger consensus and then with broader Canadian society."  

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