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First Nations constitutions won't clash with current laws, chief says

CBC News

Thirty-one First Nations communities are drafting constitutions in Ontario, including a few close to Sudbury, following the lead of the Nipissing First Nation.

That community passed a First Nations constitution earlier this month.

The chief of the Atikameksheng First Nation in Sudbury said his community is planning to vote on a constitution this summer. Steve Miller said he doesn't think it's going to come into conflict with existing Canadian laws.

"We're sending a true statement and a true document of who we are as a people,” he said.

“I see no conflict. I think they can live right along each other."

First Nations see these constitutions as a first step to self-government, but there are still questions about whether these documents will be recognized by the federal government.

Constitutions re-affirm principles

A lawyer with the Union of Ontario Indians said he's been waiting to hear since the Nipissing constitution passed.

"No, I haven't heard anything official from Ontario or Canada,” Fred Bellefeuille said.

“I would expect a congratulations from them. This is not something to fear, it's something to be happy about and to celebrate."

The federal and provincial governments won't comment on the validity of the Nipissing First Nation constitution.

However, in a statement, the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs said these constitutions are part of the work required to reach self-government agreements.

Atikameksheng’s Chief Miller said his community’s document is in its final draft. His community has not consulted with the federal or provincial government about the document.

He said the constitution will re-affirm principles that go back to before Confederation.

"We were here and aboriginal people had their constitution,” he said.

“It may not be written on paper, black and white, but we did have laws of the land."

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