This is their Declaration:
"We the Original Peoples of this land know the Creator put us here.
The Creator gave us laws that govern all our relationships to live in harmony with nature and mankind.
The Laws of the Creator defined our rights and responsibilities.
The Creator gave us our spiritual beliefs, our languages, our culture, and a place on Mother Earth which provided us with all our needs.
We have maintained our Freedom, our Languages, and our Traditions from time immemorial.
We continue to exercise the rights and fulfill the responsibilities and obligations given to us by the Creator for the land upon which we were placed.
The Creator has given us the right to govern ourselves and the right to self-determination.
The rights and responsibilities given to us by the creator cannot be altered or taken away by any other Nation."
I think as Indians, and communities we don't even consider this declaration. But it should be on the minds of all First Nations. Especially at the community level. When we make decisions at the community level it affects people in a real tangible way. We may deny the person a job, because we don't like their family. We can grant favours because we like certain people. Or we give in to the demands of the unreasonable individual or groups. And this decisions may not be in the best interest of the whole. The whole community. First Nations govern in a manner that is different than mainstream governing bodies. Decisions at the local level do affect people for a long time and can lift them up or put them down. If local leaders started to think about the declaration than perhaps they would start to think about the larger community. How individual decisions affect the bigger picture.
If you look at Manitoba First Nations for example, many of them have signed agreements with the provincial government. For example gaming agreements. The agreements seek permission from the provinces for First Nations to do gaming on their own territory. I believe it was the late Oscar Lathlin, who was Chief of the Pas, who signed the first gaming agreement with the Province of Manitoba. Prior to that Reserves in Manitoba governed over their own gaming initiatives. I never agreed with a First Nation going to the province for permission on anything. And it seems to be the norm now-a-days. So much for declaration of "the Creator has given us the right to govern ourselves and the right to self-determination". It looks like that does not enter into our Leaderships minds these days. This decision by an individual Chief or Band has made it difficult for all other Bands and Chiefs. Essentially what this person did is take away from what the Creator gave us, and had given it to the province. Does that make sense? Something that all sovereign First Nations assert they have; the right to govern themselves, was ignored and signed away by this one individual. Now how can we say we are sovereign when we keep going to the province (or any other government) and ask for permission to do something, that was already ours?
I say our communities should start to voice the AFN declaration and maybe it will sink in. Not only to the Leaders in our community but to the people as well.
We are sovereign and we have not given up that right. The first signed Treaties were not surrenders but sharing agreements and now is the time to assert those sharing agreements. Today the new agreements are meant for First Nations to surrender. That is what is happening in British Columbia and the outstanding Treaty Land Entitlements (TLE) agreements. Now when you sign an agreement (treaty) you are basically surrendering all Rights to the Land. This does not follow the declaration principles of AFN.
So what is going to be, a declaration that means nothing, or a declaration that should be a guide for how we live?