Aboriginal Right: Let's Face It
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 26 Apr 1973, p. 417-431
MacDonald, Flora, Speaker
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The lack of comprehension of what is meant by Aboriginal Rights or what the consequences of recognition and settlement will be for all Canadians. An historical review of Aboriginal Rights with regard to the Canadian government and the Constitution before and after 1969. A definition of aboriginal right. The intention to work towards negotiated settlement. Lessons of history. Disparities and problems in the approach to aboriginal rights and treaties. Dealing with land claims outside the treaties. The concept of land according to native people. Concerns and fears of non-native people.The issue of costs. Statistics regarding native people. Development of native organizations. Obligations of government to Aboriginal Rights.
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26 Apr 1973
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Full Text
APRIL 26 1973,
Aboriginal Right: Let's Face It
CHAIRMAN The President, Joseph H. Potts


THA SINN AG CUR FAILTE OIRBH! For those of you who are not bilingual that is gaelic for "We bid you a hearty welcome".

Tanse Ote-welcome here.

Miss MacDonald, let me assure you that we are simply delighted to have you with us today. We are particularly grateful to you in that, when most members of parliament are enjoying a well deserved holiday during the parliamentary recess, you have forgone any such respite in order to be with us.

It strikes me as most appropriate that the Prime Minister of Canada should have addressed the first meeting of our current season and that Miss MacDonald should address the last of our regular luncheon meetings. Just another example of the high degree of impartiality for which The Empire Club is justly famous.

Miss MacDonald is not the first member of parliament from Kingston to address the Club, although she is the first conservative member to do so. We never managed to include in our roster her illustrious namesake Sir John A. for the simple reason that the Club was not founded until after his demise. However, The Honorable Norman Rogers, as Minister of National Defence, was scheduled to address the Club on June 10, 1940 but he was killed when his plane crashed en route to the meeting. The members in attendance were unaware of the tragedy and in his absence a copy of his text was read by another person. Then in February 1969, the Hon. Edgar Benson spoke to us when he was Minister of Finance.

Miss MacDonald has been described as the "red-haired Red Tory who cites old values." Mr. Gad Horowitz has said, I quote, "a Red Tory, at the simplest level, is a conservative who prefers the N.D. P. to the Liberals or a Socialist who prefers the Conservatives to the Liberals, without really knowing why. At a higher level he or she is a conscious ideological Conservative with some 'odd' Socialist notions . . . or a conscious ideological socialist with some 'odd' Tory notions . . . "

But according to Miss MacDonald "a Red Tory is a person who goes back to fundamental values of Toryism" but she goes on to say that "although she may be the reddest Tory of them all, that is only from the point of view of hair colouring."

In any event our guest has a fantastic career behind her and probably an even more fantastic one ahead.

"She is a sixth generation Canadian, and is descended from a family of Scots who immigrated to Cape Breton in the eighteenth century. Her grandfather was the captain of a clipper ship, her father a telegraph operator. She was educated at North Sydney High School and, of far greater significance, at the Empire Business College! Though having few material advantages, she was raised by her parents, to hold a firm belief in the virtues of close family ties, consideration for others and self reliance. This background has given her a strong sense of individualism, independence and sympathy for the problems of people who have not led easy lives.

"Flora-and half the people in Canada must call her that-" writes Tom Hazlitt in the Toronto Star, "is moving gracefully into the approaches to middle age, but she is the kind of woman who will always be called a girl. She's the kind that works all night, will talk politics rather than eat, who loves her friends and makes excuses for her enemies-and does it all with the kind of intensity that makes liars of those who say Canadians are dull."

Miss MacDonald's career in the Progressive Conservative Party began in 1956 when she helped Mr. Stanfield in the election that made him Premier of Nova Scotia. A few months later she was given a job in P.C. headquarters in Ottawa where she served for nine years, the last five as executive secretary of the party.

Her interest in national affairs has embraced a wide variety of activities outside the party. She was the first Executive Director of the Committee for an Independent Canada, and a consultant to both the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, and the House of Commons Committee on Electoral Expenses. In 1971 she became the first woman to be appointed to the National Defence College course in Canadian and International Affairs, a course operated at Kingston for senior military and government officials.

She is a Director of the Canadian Institute of Public Affairs and a Past President of the Elizabeth Fry Society.

First elected to the House of Commons last October, she was appointed Chairman of the Progressive Conservative caucus on Indian Affairs and Northern Development and has tackled that responsibility with the incredible zeal and dedication for which she is justly famous. Indeed, when I finally tracked her down to invite her to speak to us, having aroused her from her slumbers one Sunday morning-by means of the telephone I should add, she had just returned from a ten-day trip through Canada's North.

Ladies and Gentlemen-it's my great privilege and pleasure to invite a very distinguished Canadian, Miss Flora MacDonald, M.P. to address us on the subject "ABORIGINAL RIGHT: LET'S FACE IT".


Thank you, Joe Potts, for that very warm and wonderful welcome. It really is a great privilege for me to be here today and when your newly elected President spoke of trepidation with which he faces his job-when I heard of the number of speakers and the quality of speakers whom you have had this year, let me tell you, for the first time I began to shake.

One of the things I had some difficulty with when I was asked to come here and speak to you was to decide on a topic that I would choose to deal with with this rather august assembly and I thought of a number of topics that I might bring to you. First of all I considered analysing some of those exciting war games, the kind that Joe and I have engaged in over the last few years on different sides of the political fence. But I thought if I did that he might demand equal time.

And then, let me tell you I gave very considerable thought to refuting some of the provocative and, if I may say, presumptuous positions put forward by the Hon. John Connally when he addressed himself and subjected you to his interpretation of our nationalism here in Toronto a few weeks ago. I resisted that temptation.

I even thought briefly about talking to you for perhaps the umpteenth time of what it's like to be a woman in politics. But I have sworn off that subject until the present situation is reversed-that is, until there are 259 women and five men in the House of Commons and then, I suppose, all the newsmen will go around writing about those uncommon men in the House so, instead, I have chosen to speak to you about a subject that has absorbed an increasing amount of my time and interest in the few months since Mr. Stanfield asked me to become the Conservative Party's spokesman on Indian Affairs and Northern Development-the subject of Aboriginal Rights of our native people.

I find that whole books have been devoted to this subject -that volumes of British, American and Canadian jurisprudence have dealt with it-that significant cases involving the conflict between native land rights and developmental projects are currently before our Canadian courts.

And yet, very few people concerned comprehend what is meant by Aboriginal Rights or what the consequences of recognition and settlement will be not only for the native people of Canada, but for all Canadians.

When choosing this subject I was somewhat concerned that I might be dealing with something you had heard about many times. But I found that I didn't really need to have that worry because in looking over your record of speeches I found that October 1969, was the last time the question of the future of Canada's native people was a subject of discussion in this forum. That was following the publication of the Government's white paper on Indian Policy when you were addressed by the Hon. Jean Chretien, Minister of Indian Affairs. I read that text, his text, on Indian Policy very carefully and I found, not unexpectedly, that the words Aboriginal Rights or Native Title were never referred to in his remarks.

That was, and still is, symptomatic of the present regime in Ottawa. Let me explain.

In 106 years of Canadian Parliamentary history, the concept of Aboriginal Rights has been debated only once in the House of Commons-on April 11th of this year. That debate, initiated by the opposition parties, jointly sought to redress a wrong.

The motion asked the present Government to endorse the concept of Aboriginal Right as set out in a paper presented by the National Indian Brotherhood of Canada. But the Government refused to allow the motion to come to a vote.

Now you may ask why the delay of 106 year before this subject was debated?

Well certainly it was not because the subject was considered insignificant or unimportant in our earlier history but up until 1969, the basic principle of aboriginal rights was accepted by every successive Canadian Government as an integral part of our constitutional makeup. The process of recognition and settlement may have been slow, there may have been just procrastinations but the principle was never in doubt. But all that changed in 1969, with the introduction of the Government's white paper on Indian policy. Never before was a Prime Minister of this country to reject the concept of Aboriginal Rights. But at that time Mr. Trudeau did so in these words, he said-"Our answer (to aboriginal rights)-it may not be the right one and may not be the one you accept-but our answer is NO."

He urged the native people to "forget the past and begin today."

Well no wonder the Indian people were outraged. Such an approach is a denial of their history and culture. Moreover, it would represent the abandonment of the basis of their historical and legal claims for justice from our society. That approach denies the obligations of history-the obligations that we as Canadians have to our native people.

It is these native people, exhausted with constant questions of what Aboriginal Rights means to them, tired of telling us of their attachment to the land that once fed, clothed and housed them-it is these native people who are waiting and watching what we in Parliament and all of us as Canadians do about this issue.

Simply stated, aboriginal right is the right of an Indian tribe or band, the native peoples, to use and occupy their traditional lands.

And where these rights are extinguished, compensation in land grants, in incomes or royalties must be provided. What we are really talking about is recognition and settlement-recognition and acceptance of a principle; settlement of outstanding claims.

The Progressive Conservative Party gives whole-hearted recognition to the concept of Aboriginal Rights. It undertakes to settle fairly the outstanding Aboriginal claims of Canada's native people.

And we intend to work toward a negotiated settlement of disputed claims-disputed treaty and Aboriginal claims-and we will do so in fair and full consultation with the native peoples.

There is obviously a clear distinction between the two major parties on this issue of Aboriginal Rights. One accepts the concept as valid-the other denies it.

And just briefly I would like to give you an historical perspective of this question.

The concept of Aboriginal Rights or title was developed in the colonial context of North America. The first major colonial power Spain, did not initially recognize native land rights, but gradually, gradually Spain came to understand that recognition was necessary on practical and moral grounds.

It is clear that the recognition of Indian land rights goes back to the very early periods of colonial settlements and represents practical experience that non-recognition led to a real sense of injustice on the part of the natives that endangered colonial settlement.

Historical evidence in this and other countries makes it clear that a policy which fails to recognize Aboriginal land rights sows seeds of bitterness and distrust.

So all we can do, in a phrase the Prime Minister often uses, is to try to be just in our time.

But was it just, as the Prime Minister did in 1969, to indicate that while his Government would recognize treaty rights, he rejected flatly the still more important obligation of Aboriginal title, commenting that "in our policy, the way we propose it, we say we won't recognize Aboriginal rights. " First, this is a denial of the most important of all native rights, one which has been recognized for centuries in many parts of this country. Second, even a moment's reflection suggests that the first principle of Aboriginal title underlies all the treaties and gives them their validity. A denial of the concept of Aboriginal title could well involve eventually a denial of the many Indian treaties based upon it.

Yet over and over again during the treaty period in the history of our country, in the west, the commissioners, speaking for the Crown, and the orders-in-council appointing the commissioners, refer to an Indian title which has to be extinguished.

And Mr. Justice Hall speaking of the recent judgment in the case of Calder vs. the Attorney-General of British Columbia, said that if treaties were not designed to extinguish Aboriginal Rights, they were fraud on the part of the Government, and that, he said, could not be presumed.

The treaties, and you must recognize there are two major parts of the country in this regard, the treaties which apply primarily to Indian bands in Ontario and the Prairie Provinces, that section of the country, Ontario and the Prairie Provinces, these treaties stand as a clear recognition of the Aboriginal Rights of the Indian people who signed them. They were not always honoured or their obligations fulfilled, but the recognition of the basic principle was there.

But then there are other significant parts of this country outside of those treaty areas-and I am speaking now of the Maritimes, of Quebec, of British Columbia and of the Northern Territories-vast areas where no treaties have been signed and no reserves established for native communities. The land claims of the native people in these vast areas have never been settled. Yet the constitutionality of their case is governed by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which, by its very wording, is a clear recognition of Aboriginal Rights. That proclamation has the force of a statute in Canada and it has never been repealed. It is frequently termed "the Charter of Indian Rights."

The proclamation does not purport to create Aboriginal Rights. It assumes these rights exist and it does so in these words. . ."And whereas it is just and reasonable and essential to our interests and the security of our colony that the several nations or tribes of Indians with whom we are connected and who live under our protection 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." That proclamation still stands today.

And so we see that the treaties, which were entered into as a recognition of native title to the land, and the Proclamation of 1763 which assumed the existence of Aboriginal Rights in vast areas of the country not covered by treaties, provide the legal basis for this concept.

I do not question the constitutional or the legal rights of the native people of this country to a just land settlement. But I would not stop there.

We have a moral right to help them achieve recognition and settlement of their Aboriginal Rights. More importantly, we must recognize that their concept of land, rooted in their belief in Aboriginal right, is vastly different from that of ours.

'Because we have chosen, we white Canadians, because we have chosen in large numbers, to become a mobile, transient population, living in high rise apartments, or moving from one faceless part of Suburbia to another, as our incomes permit, cutting off our roots, shifting our loyalties, it is no reason to assume that because we have done this we should seek to enforce these values on others.

Land, to many of us, is a piece of property we own until we can move on to something better.

But the native people have a far different concept of land. It has a mystical-a spiritual quality to them. The concept the native person had and still has, about the land, is that it is a communal ownership and he is its custodian for future generations. He has the use of it and its resources while he lives, but he has no right to destroy it in his daily use of it and thus deny its benefits to future generations.

I can perhaps best explain this feeling by quoting from two of the briefs presented recently by native leaders to our standing committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Firstly, one Indian leader said-

"Without land, Indian people have no soul-no life-no identity-no purpose. Control of our land is essential for our cultural and economic survival."

And Secondly:

"We are people of the land. We have come from the land.
And we love the land but the land is no longer what it was.
The land is now a part of the white man's new economy. It is
tracked over, marked off, sold and scarred for the minerals
and oils that lie beneath it . . . .We are accepting that the land
is no longer usable in the old way. We must seek a way to
live in the new economy for which our land is being used.
We are not seeking a way to sell our land. We are seeking a
way to use it in the new way. Our culture does not allow us to
sell our land. The land is a part of us and we are a part of the

That is their concept of the land. For too long we have ignored it, avoided it or worse still, abused it. We have taken advantage of their lack of sophistication to persuade them that our methods were better-if not for them, at least for us.

But that situation is changing. The native people cannot be expected to put up forever with this kind of duplicity. No group would. The native people have before them the temptation to respond with violence when gentler methods fail.

One remarkable fact about Canada's native leadership is the strength with which it has resisted the temptation to abandon consultation. With the emergence of strong and articulate leaders, and I am delighted to have two of the national leaders of the native people here today at this meeting, with the emergence of those leaders, native people are still prepared to negotiate in good faith. I only suggest that their moderate response cannot be counted on forever.

So the real question about Aboriginal Rights is not whether we will face them, but when, and in what spirit.

Of course, the people who must be convinced about Aboriginal Rights are not the native people but the whites. The time will come when parliament and the Government will have to consult and advise native leaders about certain realities within the white community, namely, what we think we can afford by way of settlement. No doubt that will be difficult, although it will be easier if native leadership is reasonable, as it is today, than if we drive out reasonable leadership.

But the case which the Government and parliament must make today is to the concerned people of white Canada. Their concern, I find, is based upon two fears: First, a fear that any settlement might be too extravagant for the national treasury to bear; and second, a fear that any payments made under a settlement would be wasted by people who, we assume, so often have not yet learned to manage their affairs.

Well I want to address myself to these two concerns briefly.

First, it is important to make it clear to everyone concerned that there are limits upon the settlement the National Treasury can bear. We do not intend to give away the country. No cities are in danger. No province is to be given back to the Indians. At this stage there is not even a commitment in dollars. There is simply a commitment, one would hope, to deal in good faith and as equals with people who have claims older than any other claims this country must consider. '

The claims to date are reasonable, no matter how often they are distorted. The Minister, Mr. Chretien, was himself guilty of distortion, when he publicly quoted an unnamed source in British Columbia as saying, "There are Indians in B.C. who say B.C. is all Indian land and there should not be a white man there." Well where did he get such a statement? Certainly not from the Union of B.C. Indian chiefs, whose moderate, reasonable position has been presented to the Minister in these words: They said. . . "We are asking for compensation for loss of those rights of occupancy and use of lands for which loss we have never received compensation and for adjustment of the compensation in those few cases covered by treaties where the compensation was inadequate.

"We rely on the sense of justice of the Canadian people and believe that Canadians will insist that their government recognize and deal with our claims because it is just. We have been deprived of valuable rights which we used to enjoy exclusively and of right, and have been deprived of them without compensation. That is not just.

"We have not set a total value on our claim. Our suggestion is that the claim be accepted in principle and that machinery then be established by which it can be valued in detail. And that an award or awards be made of the amount so established."

That is the request of the B.C. Indian chiefs. One which I think is reasonable and has validity.

Further on the question of costs, we are already as a country heavily involved. In direct dollar terms, the annual budget of the Department of Indian Affairs and its related agencies is $450 million a year-almost half a billion dollars-and growing annually. In indirect dollar terms there is the high and recurrent cost of provincial welfare and other programs serving native populations.

And in human terms, which dollar calculations cannot compute, we pay the staggering price each year of human potential wasted or destroyed.

And there are still other costs-costs which will be of importance to all those in the business community. For the native people now realize that if their just demands cannot elicit from us a just, moral, political and economic solution, they have recourse to the courts.

Many of you will be aware of the massive hydro-electric project underway in the James Bay area of Northern Quebec. This project, which will involve expenditures estimated at between $6 and $10 billion dollars-which has been questioned and deplored by many of Canada's leading economists, biologists, engineers, environmentalists and climatologists, this project is forging ahead.

And though thousands of Canadians have doubts as to its future impact on our country, whether economically or environmentally, only one group has taken action.

The native people of the James Bay area have for some months been engaged in court action to obtain a temporary injunction to halt the hydro project until their just claims have been met.

And why do I say just claims?

Because under the Royal Proclamation of 1763 they have Aboriginal title to that land which has never been extinguished. Even the Minister acknowledges that.

The Government of Quebec may choose to ignore these claims, but the Federal Government has a constitutional responsibility, to say nothing of its moral responsibility, to see that the law of the land is upheld; that the native people of Quebec are not exposed to the same shameful treatment of expulsion, noncompensation and high-handed bargaining accorded their people in other parts of the country in earlier times.

Surely, if we have learned nothing else from our history, we have learned to acknowledge and without much pride, that the native people of Canada in times past were victims of white trickery. Let us not perpetuate this shameful treatment through another generation in seeking to out-manoeuvre the Indians and Inuit population of James Bay.

Or, in what may become a parallel situation, the native people in the Mackenzie Corridor of the Northwest Territories who are now initiating court action to gain time to negotiate treaties which were written but never fulfilled, of settlements which were promised but never honored.

Here we have two huge developments, each reputed to cost in the vicinity of $10 billion, which can conceivably be invalidated in the courts until the question of who owns the land is settled. Aboriginal title should be of more than passing interest to our captains of industry-it should make them as anxious as the native people to have this complex and perplexing issue resolved.

There is a second fear shared by many Canadians, the fear that native people cannot manage their own affairs or do not want to-that fear is perhaps not without some foundation and we have contributed to it. For we have spawned a giant governmental bureaucracy which makes a people increasingly dependent on it-which, regardless of its good intentions, has not produced any long-term solutions to an increasingly important issue-which has not seen any significant maximization of the potential of our native people.

Rather, the native people of this country suffer a mortality rate five times that for all Canada.

Their life expectancy is half that of other Canadians.
Their housing hopelessly overcrowded and inadequate.
Their school dropouts are double those of non-Indians.
Their unemployment rate is 80 percent during the winter months and 60 percent during the summer.

Surely the costs-the social costs-like these are far more for us to bear than the settlements they seek.

But there is a positive aspect. With the help of governmental grants, the native organizations have, in recent years, created a remarkable cadre of leadership, nationally and in the provinces and territories.

And these organizations are now of a calibre where they can produce their own research, their own negotiating teams and their own goals for their people.

It seems to me, therefore, we are faced with two alternatives. One is to continue the paternalistic system that we have had in the past, the system that I have been describing; the second is to face up to the recognition and settlement of Aboriginal Rights.

One consequence of the eventual settlement of Aboriginal claims is that Canadian native people will then be forced to stand on their own because once the settlements are made, the claims are gone.

If money or land received in settlement is wasted that will be it. Knowing this, knowing that the settlements which are reached will have to be lived with, will itself force native people to face basic questions about their status, about the reserve system, about their role in Canadian society. It will force them to face these and other questions with a seriousness which cannot exist in the present atmosphere of so-called consultation when they naturally believe their opinions are being sought only to find they have been ignored.

What the settlement of Aboriginal claims will mean to the Indian people is not simply money or land, but more important responsibility, in a much fuller system than exists in the paternalistic system we have today. Beyond that, a recognition of Aboriginal Rights is a matter of simple justice made more urgent by prolonged delay . . . these are the people who first occupied these lands. We took it from them, seldom by conquest, sometimes by agreements which were unfair then, or are inadequate now, sometimes without settlement at all. After taking the land, we took their dignity and independence. In simple terms, we owe a debt. If we believe in any sort of justice in society, we must recognize our obligation to Canada's native people and to their Aboriginal claim.

And that obligation must be recognized not only by government, not only by the politicians, not only by constitutional lawyers, but by all members of the Canadian business community-by you, yourselves.

Thank you.

Flora MacDonald was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club by Major A.J. Langley, a Past President of the Club.


You know, Mr. President, listening to Miss MacDonald I was very conscious of the fact that there are no uninteresting subjects only uninterested people as those people our speaker is caring about and concerned about, because I think she would agree with me that there are those who make things happen and there are those who watch things happening. And, of course, there is the great tragedy, there are those who don't even know anything is happening. And as she addresses herself to try to convert the third group to the second and finally the second group up to the first of which she is a star member, I think perhaps we can best express our thanks to her by joining in what I read to be the hope implicit in her remarks that we would see the enlightened native leadership to which she alluded matched by enlightened white leadership so that we might discharge our obligations with honour and with justice.

It's been delightful to have you. You have brightened our Annual Meeting. We hope you will come again.

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Aboriginal Right: Let's Face It

The lack of comprehension of what is meant by Aboriginal Rights or what the consequences of recognition and settlement will be for all Canadians. An historical review of Aboriginal Rights with regard to the Canadian government and the Constitution before and after 1969. A definition of aboriginal right. The intention to work towards negotiated settlement. Lessons of history. Disparities and problems in the approach to aboriginal rights and treaties. Dealing with land claims outside the treaties. The concept of land according to native people. Concerns and fears of non-native people.The issue of costs. Statistics regarding native people. Development of native organizations. Obligations of government to Aboriginal Rights.