Why are we talking about Constitutions?
In the past, before Treaty, before the imposition of the Indian Act, our people govern themselves through custom and tradition. Each group of Anishinaabe had their Ogima, or Chiefs, headmen, elders, and knowledge-keepers, who were recognized because of their knowledge, experience, wisdom and abilities to exercised authority and to make decisions for the wellbeing of their people, and were removed and replace by customary methods. Leaders only exercised authority with the consent of their people, and the people consented to be governed, in a manner of speaking. Of course, consent could be withdrawn anytime, and when that happened, a leader would lose their authority and prestige. This is what can be called an “unwritten” constitution.
In 1876, all that was replaced by the Indian Act, a foreign law imposed on our people, that did away with our customary and traditional systems of governance. You could say that the Indian Actbecame our constitution, our rule-book. A system of governance by consent was forcibly replaced by a governance system without consent. The Indian Act forced upon us a standardized, one-size-fits-all, colonial governance structure, designed to marginalize, impoverish, disempower, and ultimately, do away with our peoples as a nation and rid us of our inherent right to govern ourselves. In spite of all this, we resisted, kept our identity, our nationhood, and now the Canadian government has said it is getting rid of the Indian Act. It is going to disappear, so what is going to replace it?
With no Indian Act, there will be no more rules set out by Ottawa. There will be no more “bands”. Each nation will have to decide how it wishes to govern itself according to its right to be self-governing. This right is protected by Treaties. It is protected by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This means we have to re-constitute our governments, now in a modern form, one that reflect the progressive standards of democracy and human rights which are now the benchmark of modern governments throughout the entire world.