In the 1960’s, the twelve Chiefs of the Prince Albert District formed a political alliance, to collectively work together on common issues, which was formalized under the Charter of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians (FSI). In the early years, the Chiefs met during the FSI All Chiefs Conferences, to discuss pressing issues and to elect a District Representative, who sat on the Executive Council of the FSI, which later became known as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN).
Initially, the Prince Albert District Chiefs (PADC) only addressed concerns of a political nature and did not employee any staff, with the exception of the fifteen employees they hired, at the beginning of the 1975/1976 school year, to operate the School Block of the Prince Albert Indian Student Residence (PAISR), which was still under the control of Indian Affairs, at that time. Then, in 1982, a Convention Act was passed, formalizing the organization. This was followed by the development of the administrative side of the organization, in 1984, which was incorporated as the PADC Management Company.
In 1989, the organization developed a new logo and the name was changed to the Prince Albert Tribal Council (PATC). The Chiefs of the newly formed tribal council passed a new Convention Act, in 1993, and the name of the organization was officially changed to the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC). The PAGC Convention is based upon the primacy and independence of each of the twelve First Nations and identifies the national, cultural and political principles that the Grand Council is founded upon and under which it is required to act. The new Convention also supports the devolution or transfer of services currently offered by PAGC to individual First Nations, as requested.
Outlining its Functions and Mandate
The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) is a tribal council (maybe define ‘tribal council’) representing 12 First Nations with a total of 30,000 First Nations members.
Each of the 12 First Nations can be classified as belonging to one of four sectors:
-Denesuline Sector: Black Lake Denesuline Nation, Fond du Lac Denesuline Nation and Hatchet Lake Denesuline Nation;
-Prairie Sector: James Smith Cree Nations, Sturgeon Lake First Nation, and Wahpeton Dakota Nation.
-Swampy Cree Sector: Cumberland House Cree Nation, Red Earth Cree Nation and Shoal Lake Cree Nation; and
-Woodland Cree Sector: Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Montreal Lake Cree Nation and Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation;
The official languages of the PAGC are Dakota, Dene and Cree.
The PAGC Executive includes Grand Chief Ron Michel, Vice-Chief Brian Hardlotte, and Vice-Chief Joseph Tsannie Jr.
BEGINNINGS OF THE PAGC
After the Second World War, the Chiefs of 12 northern Saskatchewan First Nations formed a political alliance and collectively worked together on common issues.
This alliance was formalized in the 1960s under the charter of the now Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN). The group was comprised of the Chiefs. There was no staff at that time. This group, called the Prince Albert District Chiefs (PADC), would meet when the FSIN met. A District Representative, representing the group politically, was elected, and that individual was part of the executive of the FSIN.
LEGAL AUTHORITY FOR CREATION OF THE PAGC
In 1982, the first PADC Convention Act was passed. The administrative side of the PADC was developed in 1984.
In 1984, the Prince Albert District Chiefs Management Company was incorporated and was delegated to begin offering services to the member First Nations. The first service offered was in the area of education. The Management Company negotiated for the transfer of other services through devolution within the Department of Indian Affairs. In 1985, administrative control of the Prince Albert Indian Student Residence was transferred to PADC. This was a significant move as it involved the administration and care of approximately 300 children and approximately 80 staff. All the political and administrative authority of the PADC existed by delegation from the First Nations.
In 1989, the name of the PADC was changed to the Prince Albert Tribal Council. In 1993, a new Convention and Act was passed (by what legislative body?) and the new designation was the Prince Albert Grand Council. With the new convention, many services currently offered by PAGC may now be devolved or transferred to individual First Nations and or local Tribal Councils. In the long run there will be fewer services at the PAGC level and more with the individual First Nations and smaller local Tribal Councils.
THE PAGC CONVENTION
The PAGC Convention is the current political accord between the 12 First Nation members of the Grand Council. It sets out the national, cultural and political principles upon which the Grand Council is founded and under which it is required to act. The Convention is based upon the primacy and independence of each member First Nation.
By definition (this seems a very strange thing to say – how could it be ‘by definition’), the Convention requires unanimous consent from the member First Nations, whose own authority to enter into the political accord is determined internally. The minimum authorization required by the Chiefs in order to sign the Convention on behalf of their First Nation is a Council Resolution, although during the development of the current Convention, community membership meetings were held and several First Nations held members’ votes to provide authorization to their Chief to sign the Convention on their behalf.
THE PAGC ACT
The PAGC Act is the fundamental governance legislation, identifying the various formal governing structures of the Grand Council:
-Annual Assembly (a delegate assembly with a current total of 172 delegates);
-Boards and Commissions;
-Women’s Commission (which has unique authority relative to other commissions);
-Council of Elders;
The PAGC Act provides for the creation of various corporate entities and agents to carry out the business (public and private) of the Grand Council and also for the reciprocal accountability requirements between these administrative/management agents and the various authorities. Among these requirements is the obligation to report to the Annual Assembly (held in mid-October) and to conduct annual accountability sessions with individual First Nations memberships as per principle IX(h) of the Convention.
THE CHALLENGES FACED BY PAGC
The PAGC and its member First Nations are confronted with the same array of external interests, institutions and authorities as other Aboriginal governments. The development and implementation of strategies to maximize the opportunities and minimize the threats in the external environment is a constant challenge. The PAGC leadership devotes a significant proportion of their time to dealing with these strategic questions.
While consideration of the external environment is crucial, it must be balanced with the internal demands of providing government/direction to the various policies and programs of the Grand Council and the development of authentic First Nation legislation. The internal strengths and weaknesses of the PAGC become critical to both external and internal strategies.
The continuing interference, conflict and competition with other jurisdictions (federal, provincial and municipal) in terms of legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration, represents a major challenge to the development and exercise of First Nation governance. The catalogue of such conflicts is familiar to all Aboriginal governments.
Similar constraints in relation to economic development, self-sufficiency and wealth generation exist for PAGC First Nations and such barriers exist primarily as a result of the same jurisdictional conflicts cited above.
Strategies to reduce/eliminate the threats and constraints imposed by the external environment (public and private) are again familiar in terms of their range, but perhaps unique from a quantitative perspective, because of the size and diversity of the PAGC.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR PAGC
There are numerous undertakings which do not confront the fundamental jurisdictional conflicts, but which attempt to expand boundaries with respect to fiscal resources, program administration/management, legislation, regulation and economic activity and, thereby, create opportunities for self-directed public and private sector developments.
Examples of these intermediate/remedial strategies would include:
-lobbying federal and provincial legislatures, cabinets and ministries and municipal governments, related to recognition of inherent jurisdiction and expansions of existing definitions;
-negotiations with federal and provincial agencies to expand fiscal resources and reduce external accountability;
-participation on various governance/management structures which operate under federal/provincial legislation, where there is significant Aboriginal representation and without prejudice to fundamental Treaty/Aboriginal and constitutional rights;
-legal action under federal and provincial law; and
-creation of economic institutions, participation in joint ventures with established corporations.
These strategies are undertaken with considerable caution, but are generally supported where they contribute to some improvement in the social and economic health of their membership and are judged to represent incremental change, which advances the achievement of self-determination. This general strategy must continue to acknowledge the possibility that many emerging “opportunities” may in fact be “threats,” i.e., increase the barriers to the achievement of self-determination, and consequently must be rejected despite the immediate resources that are being offered.
Strategies to bring about fundamental change in jurisdictional and governance capacities focus on First Nation alliances at the tribal, regional, provincial, national and international levels. The PAGC commits significant resources to these collective strategies, including:
creation and implementation of First Nation laws;
constitutional challenges and negotiations;
public discussions and education in the media, inquiries and other forms;
international trade development; and
political lobbying before various international regulatory and monitoring agencies.
The PAGC is a democratic, representative body which advocates on behalf of its 12 member First Nations. It also has an economic development arm, the Prince Albert First Nations Business Development Limited Partnership, which historically, was known as PADC. The business arm has achieved great successes financially since it was established.
The leadership of the organization is democratically elected and has gained great credibility with senior governments for the successes enjoyed in the many initiatives it has undertaken. To name a few: White Buffalo Youth Inhalant Treatment Centre, Men’s Spiritual Healing Lodge, Sakwatamo Lodge (for Alcohol Treatment), Problem Gambling Treatment Centre, Aboriginal Healing Project, the PAGC Women’s Commission, and the list goes on.
The Prince Albert Grand Council, with approximately 350 employees, is one of the largest employers in the City of Prince Albert. It features a great roster of dedicated First Nations and non-First Nations professionals working for the many.
PROGRAMS & SERVICES
In 1984, the Chiefs delegated the newly formed management arm of the organization to begin offering services to First Nations and negotiated for the transfer of other services, arising from the devolution of Indian Affairs. The first program that PADC took over was the Prince Albert Indian Student Residence (PAISR), in 1985, which quickly brought the staffing component of the organization up to about 75 employees, from the initial fifteen employees who delivered the Grade 1 – 4 Program, to approximately 200 students attending the School Block.
At this time, there were only three band-controlled schools within PADC, which included James Smith, Sturgeon Lake and the School Block at the residence. However, due to the importance of promoting band-controlled schools, Education became the first program to be offered, by PADC. This included the establishment of an Education Coordinators and Directors Group, who were formed to discuss the early issues related to Indian Control of Indian Education and which still operates, today.
The next two programs to be introduced, during the early years, were Economic Development and Health. Two Economic Development Workers were hired to provide support to local communities. Around the same time, the Chiefs became involved in negotiating a Health Transfer Agreement. In later years, Social Development concerns were included, leading to the establishment of the current office of Health & Social Development. Similarly, community development was also identified as a priority, in later years. As a result, the Offices of Education & Training, Health & Social Development and Economic & Community Development continue to be three of the largest programs offered by PAGC, along with Justice Services, Treaty Administration, and Lands, Resources and Technical Services.
Therefore, from the humble beginning of fifteen staff, in 1975, to a staffing component of seventy-five, in 1985, PAGC currently employees about 350 staff, as of the Year 2005, and operates numerous programs and services, as outlined in the Chart on Administrative Structure of the Prince Albert Grand Council. These programs and services are described in the Section of this document, entitled Our Vision, Values & Mission Statement, and have earned PAGC an exemplary national reputation as a model for tribal council service delivery, according to the recent comprehensive Review of Tribal Councils, completed by Indian & Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), in 2004.
As indicated in the Review, PAGC is committed to the delivery of quality programs and services that will collectively benefit all its’ twelve member First Nations, as well as the two First Nations in the process of becoming re-instated. This is a highly challenging task, since the total land base of the Grand Council covers approximately 100,000 square miles and includes four Treaty areas: Treaties 5, 6, 8 and 10. In addition, the total population exceeds 32,000 members and is growing very rapidly, with a high proportion of the population being youth (i.e. approximately 60%). Therefore, this exemplary reputation as a leader in tribal council service delivery is something to be very proud of.
HISTORY OF THE TREATIES
First Nations People from the Eastern shores made contact with European peoples who came in search of riches, in the 1500s. Although these early explorers did not find gold, they were impressed by the quality of the furs that the people they encountered wore, leading to the early fur trade, primarily with French and English traders. The French voyageurs conducted their trade along the St. Lawrence River system, in the early years, whereas the English merchants established the Hudson’s Bay Company, in 1680, after acquiring British Title to a huge tract of First Nations land, which did not involve any consultation with the original First Nations occupants of the land.
This piece of land, which the British called “Rupert’s Land”, included the vast area surrounding all of the rivers that emptied into the Hudson Bay. This included the Athabasca River System, in traditional Denēsuline territories; the Churchill River System, in nīhithawak territories; and the Saskatchewan River System, in traditional nēhiyawak territories. Portions of these territories were also occupied by the Dakota Peoples, who followed the buffalo herds within a broad range of territory that extended much farther to the south and east, into what is now the State of Minnesota. In addition, the eastern portion of these river systems, as they got closer to the Hudson’s Bay, were located in traditional nēhinawak territories, making the nēhinawak one of the first peoples to establish a trade relationship with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
For the next one hundred years, the Hudson’s Bay Company concentrated their fur trade efforts in forts they built at the mouth of the rivers that emptied into the Hudson Bay and they entered into trade alliances with the nēhinawak Nations whose territories they occupied, providing them with an important role as intermediaries in the early fur trade. As the French traders began to move inland and trade with the First Nations who used to either trade with the Cree intermediaries or travel with their furs to the Bay, the Hudson’s Bay Company recognized the need to establish inland trading posts. As a result, the first inland trading post was established in Cumberland House, in 1774, providing the Cumberland House Cree Nation with a long history of contact with British merchants.
During this same period of time, the British and French began settling along the St. Lawrence River system, establishing the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada, which entered into a Confederation, in 1867, thereby forming the early Government of Canada, which was established under British rule. Immediately after Confederation, the newly formed government purchased Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company, again without consulting any of the First Nations who occupied this vast region and causing a lot of concern amongst them. The British Crown had already entered into a number of early treaties with the First Nations Peoples living in the east; therefore they determined that this would be the best way to deal with the unrest amongst the First Nations in the west, in order to acquire their lands and territories to boost the economy of the newly formed Country of Canada.
As a result, the British Crown sent out Alexander Morris, as the Lieutenant Governor of Canada, to begin negotiating the numbered treaties with the Indians of Canada. This included the following:
-Treaty #5, in 1875, primarily an agricultural treaty, designed to acquire vast tracts of land for agricultural settlement, which was negotiated with the Swampy Cree or nēhinawak, including the Cumberland House, Red Earth and Shoal Lake Cree Nations;
-Treaty #6, in 1876, also an agricultural treaty designed to acquire vast tracts of land for agricultural settlement, which was negotiated with the Plains Tribes, including the Plains Cree or nēhiyawak, and which includes the Sturgeon Lake First Nation and the James Smith, Chakastaypasin and Peter Chapman Cree Nations;
-Adhesion to Treaty #6, in 1889, designed to acquire forest lands to establish the forestry and mining industries, which was negotiated with the Woodland Cree or nīhithawak Nations, who are now referred to as the Montreal Lake Cree Nation (originally the William Charles Band) and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (originally the James Roberts Band), followed by members from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, who originally entered Treaty 6 in 1895 and 1898, as members of the James Roberts Band, and later reconstituted as an independent band, in 1900;
-Treaty #8, in 1899, a later treaty designed to acquire huge tracts of land to further establish the forestry and mining industries, which was negotiated with many nations, including the Fond du Lac and Black Lake Denēsuline Nations;
-Treaty #10, in 1906, also a later treaty primarily for the development of the mining industry, which was negotiated with many nations, including the Hatchet Lake Denēsuline Nation and which included traditional nīhithawak
The understanding of First Nations Elders is that the Treaties did not represent a sale of land. Instead, the Treaties were an agreement to share their traditional lands (to the depth of a plough), in a way that would be mutually beneficial to both partners in Treaty. First Nations continue to understand the Treaties to mean that we will receive a number of benefits, which were promised to us, by the Crown, when the Treaties were signed, on behalf of Canada. Today, these promises are referred to as First Nations Treaty Rights and include the following:
-Treaty Right to Justice & Governance
-Treaty Right to Education
-Treaty Right to Health & Child Welfare
-Treaty Right to Housing
-Treaty Right to Lands & Resources
-Treaty Right to Hunting, Fishing, Trapping & GatheringTreaty Annuities
The years following the signing of the earlier number Treaties were not easy for First Nations, due to drought, famine and the difficulty of adjusting to a settled way of life, on the reserve. Furthermore, without consultation with the First Nations, the Government of Canada formed the Indian Act and the Department of Indian Affairs to enforce the Indian Act, in 1876. The Department of Indian Affairs governed all matters pertaining to Indians & Indian lands, instead of maintaining nation-to-nation relations with First Nations, on the basis of our Treaty and Inherent Rights. As a result, restrictions were placed on the traditional way of life, that included banning or regulating of traditional spiritual ceremonies, dancing, singing and traditional regalia (from 1895 to 1914). In addition, a pass system was imposed after the 1885 Rebellion, to restrict travel off reserve, as well as a permit system, restricting the sale of locally raised and/or harvested goods, which added to the economic hardship that was being experienced on-reserve.
Although the Wahpeton Dakota Nation was not included in one of the numbered Treaties, the Dakota were involved in an earlier Peace & Friendship Treaty with the British Crown, who required their military aid to gain control of all of the lands they sought to colonize, from the French. As a result, they were welcomed to establish reserve lands in Canada, after they fled from the American military assault in what is now the United States of America, and they are recognized by Indian & Northern Affairs Canada as registered Indians.
As First Nations, we recognize that our Treaty Rights are provided to us, in perpetuity, in exchange for sharing our traditional territories with the new nation, so that everyone will have the opportunity to benefit. In this regard, the Country of Canada has received significant economic benefits from the industries of agriculture, forestry and mining, which derive from the exploitation of First Nations lands and resources. However, First Nations have not benefited equitably and continue to live in third-world conditions, while the majority of Canadians thrive and prosper. This is because the Treaties have never been fully implemented and First Nations lands and resources are not equitably shared, therefore, all First Nations must continue to fight to defend our rights, as defined in the Vision of the Prince Albert Grand Council:
PAGC will create and lead in building a First Nation Treaty governance model that takes a balanced approach to the entrenchment and protection of its Treaty and Inherent Rights and Aboriginal Title; the development and provision of necessary social programming for its constituents; and, an economic plan that creates wealth, builds infrastructure and seizes growth opportunities at the community level, on behalf of its First Nations.
The twelve First Nations comprising the Prince Albert Grand Council continue to maintain a strong connection with their cultural identities as Denē, Woodland Cree, Swampy Cree, Plains Cree and Dakota Nations. However, the historic imposition of foreign government policies, totalitarian control of Indian Agents and the forced relocation of First Nations Peoples from their traditional territories to small designated pieces of lands, referred to as “Indian Reserves”, severely impacted upon the traditional way of life of the People. In addition, the forced removal of generations of children, as young as four and five years of age, who were confined in Indian Residential Schools, where they were often punished for speaking their language and forced to adopt a different way of life, has left many deep wounds that continue to impact upon present as well as future generations.
These wounds were caused not only by the cultural and spiritual genocide endorsed by the Government of Canada, as the overseer of the schools, but also as a result of the rampant physical and sexual abuse that occurred. As a result of the pervasive impacts of colonialism and the intergenerational impacts of residential schools, the First Nations of the Prince Albert Grand Council are struggling to heal from the wounds and restore their languages and cultural identities, as proud nations of First Nations Peoples. In this regard, PAGC Education is involved in a number of initiatives designed to support children and youth in relearning their language and culture, including The Gift of Language and Culture Project, which is dedicated towards reviving the true spirit of language and culture of the Peoples, which is reflected within each of the languages that are spoken.
The Prince Albert Grand Council is divided into four sectors that are geographically connected and which share cultural and linguistic similarities, evolving from the close relationship that First Nations have with the traditional lands and resources that have been shared.
The Denē Sector is the most northern sector and it includes three Denēsuline Nations that are located within the Athabasca region, where the Denē Su’Line language is still spoken by the majority of the people. This sector includes the Fond du Lac Denēsuline Nation, Black Lake Denēsuline Nation and the Hatchet Lake Denēsuline Nation. The Denēsuline maintain a very close relationship with the land and still rely on the caribou herds, as a staple food in their diet, along with other local wildlife, berries and traditional medicines. The way of life of the Denēsuline has evolved with the introduction of modern transportation, including motor boats, lake barges, skidoos, airplanes, road vehicles and northern roads, all of which are dependent upon the seasons. Until recently, all three communities were classified as “fly-in communities” due to their isolated northern location, however new northern roads have changed their status, as they are accessible by road during most seasons of the year, with the exception of Fond du Lac, which is one of the few remaining fly-in communities in Canada. Modern telecommunications and technology also impact upon the traditional way of life, along with the northern mining industry, which employs a small portion of the population and creates environmental impacts that affect Denēsuline lands and resources, today.
The Woodland Cree Sector is the next most northern sector and it includes three nīhithawak Nations that are located in the northern forest, lake and river region, where the original language spoken is nīhithawīwin, which linguists classify as the “th-dialect of Cree”. This sector has a large population base, due to the multi-community bands: the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (including two reserves right next to the Town of La Ronge, Sucker River, Hall Lake, Stanley Mission, Grandmother’s Bay and Little Red Reserve), the Montreal Lake Cree Nation (including part of Little Red Reserve) and the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (including Pelican Narrows, Sandy Bay, Deschambault Lake, Southend, Kinoosao, Amisk Lake and Sturgeon Landing, as well as new urban land holdings in Prince Albert and Saskatoon). The nīhithawak also maintain a close relationship with the land and many people still engage in hunting, fishing and trapping, primarily to supplement their diet and income, although a few people still subside by living off the land. Seasonal gathering of wild rice, berries and other traditional foods and medicines is still practiced by some of the older people, although the presence of grocery stores has minimized the need to live off the land. The way of life of the nīhithawak has also evolved significantly with the advent of modern transportation, telecommunications, technology and industry. Today, investment in corporate ventures provides employment for some of the people, in the mining, trucking, forestry, agriculture and tourism industries, although new opportunities need to be created to provide sustainable jobs for the fast-growing youth population, within the Prince Albert Grand Council.
The Swampy Cree Sector is located in the eastern part of PAGC territories and it includes three nēhinawak Nations, whose primary language spoken is nēhinawēwin, which linguists classify as the “n-dialect of Cree”, although people from the Red Earth Cree Nation speak a “y-dialect”. This sector includes the Cumberland House Cree Nation, Red Earth Cree Nation and Shoal Lake Cree Nation, which are all located north-east of the Town of Nipawin. The nēhinawak still maintain a close relationship with the land, relying on both small and large game animals, birds and fish, to supplement their diets, along with berries and medicines harvested from the land. The way of life of the nēhinawak has also been forced to evolve, with the advent of modern transportation, telecommunications, technology and industry, however, with only a small land base provided to the three communities, the struggle to thrive in the modern economy continues to be a huge challenge and there are few job opportunities for community members to participate in. At the same time, there is a reluctance to move to urban centers, due to strong family and community ties, feelings of non-acceptance and isolation off-reserve, and the lack of meaningful opportunities for employment in small town Saskatchewan.
The Plains Sector is located within a one-hundred kilometre radius of the City of Prince Albert and includes both nēhiyawak Nations, whose original language is nēhiyawēwin (which linguists classify as the “y-dialect of Cree”), and one Dakota Nation, the Wahpeton Dakota Nation, whose original language is Dakota. The nēhiyawak Nations include the Sturgeon Lake First Nation and the James Smith Cree Nation, who shares the same territory, administration and services with the Chakastaypasin Cree Nation and Peter Chapman Cree Nation. These two nations are both in the process of becoming legally reinstated and recognized as separate First Nations. In spite of their close proximity to the city, the Plains Nations still maintain a close relationship to the land and to their cultures, as nēhiyawak and Dakota Peoples, which includes their traditional ceremonies and way of life that has been passed down from generation to generation, since time immemorial. This includes the preservation of sacred items and spiritual practices, which generations of Elders were forced to hide and protect from the genocidal policies designed to destroy them. Although close proximity to large urban centers prevents the people from living off the land, to any great extent, some of the old traditions of hunting and gathering still remain intact, including the knowledge of healing plants and medicines. At the same time, new technologies, industries and economic practices have been adopted, which provide both rural and urban job opportunities in a variety of industries, such as agriculture, gaming, social services, local merchants and the small business sector. Within the Plains Sector, more than the other three sectors of the Prince Albert Grand Council, increasing numbers of people are moving into the city, looking for new opportunities, offered through education and employment. As a result, the PAGC Urban Services Office is continually striving to expand their services, to meet the need for more jobs and better access to education and housing, for this growing sector of the population.
The Values of the organization are as follows:
we encourage corporate and individual involvement in community activities.
we enable individuals to be responsible and accountable for providing excellent program and service delivery to member First Nations.
Trust and Teamwork
we have relationships that are based on trust, cooperation and teamwork.
we have open communication, open dialogue, and participative management.
we have a commitment to continuous employee development and growth.
we develop partnerships that will enhance the economic, social and cultural well being of member First Nations.
we respect one another and the importance of family.