Courtesy Union of Ontario Indians/Anishinabek Nation
A First Nations delegation went to London to commemorate the issuing of the Royal Proclamation, which defined the relationship between the Crown and the Indigenous Peoples in what would come to be known as Canada.

Sunrise Ceremonies Mark Royal Proclamation’s 250th Anniversary on Both Sides of Atlantic


It’s called the Indian Magna Carta, and today marks its 250th anniversary.

On October 7, 1763, King George III signed the Royal Proclamation, which “essentially defined the relationship between the Crown and the Native peoples in the new territories in North America acquired by the British—land that would become Canada,” in the words of CBC News.

Indigenous leaders commemorated the occasion on both sides of the Atlantic, drawing attention to the lack of progress since the proclamation was issued, while the grassroots movement Idle No More called for a day of action. 

“Today and every day we must recall the intent that brought all our ancestors together so many years ago, and ensure that the principles of mutual respect, mutual recognition and partnership are our guides going forward to achieve a better life for all of us,” said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo at a press conference on Monday. “Too many First Nation children, families and communities are challenged on a daily basis to meet basic standards of life because we are not living up to the promises in the treaties and other agreements that stem from the foundation of the Royal Proclamation.”

The proclamation laid the groundwork for the wampum-diplomacy Treaty of Niagara between the British Crown and First Nations. That took effect on August 1, 1764, with the exchange of 24 Nations Wampum Belts and the 1764 Covenant Chain, the AFN said.

Under the proclamation, which declared it “just and reasonable” to do so, King George III stipulated that the First Nations covered by the agreement “should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to, or purchased by Us, are reserved to them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds.”

It also directed anyone who had inadvertently settled on such lands “forthwith to remove themselves from such Settlements.”

Known among legal scholars as "the Indian Magna Carta," the Royal Proclamation represents “the first time that aboriginal title was recognized by a European power,” said the Union of Ontario Indians in a statement. It also lays “the foundation for a constitutional relationship between the Crown in Canada and ‘the Indian Tribes of North America,’ who were specifically referred to as ‘nations,’ the UOI said, and it “marked the official launch of the Treaty Relationship in what was to become Canada.”

This, as many pointed out upon the arrival of James Anaya, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on his first-ever observation tour of Canada, has not materialized. Anaya arrived on October 7 to begin his study of conditions among Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.

RELATED: Anaya Bringing UN Human Rights Investigation to Canada

“The approach, laws and policies of federal governments have been paternalistic at best and assimilationist at worst,” said Atleo in the AFN statement. “Our work today is about returning to approaches that recognize First Nations authority over our lives, our lands and our peoples, where First Nation governments are strong, the Treaties are alive and honoured and Treaty-making allows all of us to thrive. Let today mark an ‘era of action.’ It’s clear to everyone that the paternalistic approach is not working and the status quo is failing everyone. We must commit today to return to the original relationship and act together for change.”

Commemorative events and calls to action took place on both sides of the Atlantic. The Museum of Civilization outside Ottawa hosted a daylong symposium studying the legal implications of the Royal Proclamation. Atleo, along with First Nation elders, leaders and community members, were scheduled to attend or speak. He also participated in a sunrise ceremony to mark the day.

In London, a delegation from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) and AFN Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde conducted a sunrise ceremony on Monday as well. Atleo is scheduled to join them on October 8 and will deliver a keynote address at Oxford University on October 9, the AFN said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement honoring the relationship and acknowledging that work still needs to be done, while Governor General David Johnston noted the document’s significance as “part of the legal foundation of Canada,” as well as its continuing relevance.

“Enshrined in our constitution, the Royal Proclamation formally recognizes a fundamental truth about Canada: that we are stronger when we respect one another’s differences and when we work together,” Johnston said in his statement.

“The Royal Proclamation is a seminal document in our history,” Harper said. “On this anniversary, it is important that we honor the critical role that aboriginals have played in shaping Canada as we know it today.  It also offers a moment for reflection on the past 250 years and on the work that needs to be done together to ensure that all aboriginals can share in the potential and promise of our great country.”

Harper added, “Our government is committed to continue working in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis to make concrete progress on common goals and initiatives. This includes ongoing dialogue on the treaty relationship and comprehensive land claims. We are also taking concrete action on education, economic development, housing, child and family services, access to safe drinking water, as well as the extension of human rights protection and matrimonial real property rights to First Nations people.”

CBC News noted that the government contributed $30,000 to the symposium, with the rest funded by the Land Claims Agreement Coalition and participant registration fees, comparing that amount to what the government spent on commemorating the War of 1812.

“Although the government spent $28 million on celebrations for the War of 1812, and has plans for the 200th birthday of Sir John A. MacDonald and the 25th anniversary of the signing of NAFTA, it did not make similar preparations for the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763,” CBC News reported.

Read the full Royal Proclamation of 1763.

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