“The Royal Proclamation is a seminal document in our history.”—Prime Minister Stephen Harper
King George III would be so proud. After he’d conquered the French, the King issued a Royal Proclamation on Oct. 7, 1763 that recognized, for the first time, that aboriginals on the North American continent had rights worth recognizing. Today, the proclamation celebrates its 250th birthday. Canada can barely contain its excitement. There are too many parties to count. Fireworks across the nation will light up our night.
No, not exactly. But politicians are rushing to recognize the Royal Proclamation’s vital importance and perpetual significance and unending contribution to Canadian progress. Just for today, the proclamation gets a little bit of limelight.
The government is revelatory. Prime Minister Stephen Harper celebrates the Royal Proclamation a “seminal document in our history,” and takes pains to recognize the “critical role that Aboriginals have played in shaping Canada as we know it today.” Harper wants to move forward, together. He concluded his morning press release with a visionary call to arms: “I look forward to making further progress together.”
Meanwhile, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo are celebrating the proclamation’s big day with schoolchildren. The pair are visiting an elementary school and a high school in Ottawa, where they’ll extol the historical document’s virtues. Across the river in Gatineau, Que., Governor General David Johnston delivered the opening keynote at a symposium meant to shed some light on modern treaty-building—all of which started way back in 1763. Valcourt is also on tap to speak at the gathering.
All these nods to a document that, by all measures, is a survivor. In 1982, any rights secured in the Royal Proclamation were enshrined in Section 25 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Aboriginal groups cling to that measure and the central role it plays in their ongoing fight for rights. Idle No More activists constantly reference the document.
Today, the government recognizes the impact of that document, so fundamentally important to so many thousands of aboriginal Canadians. Tomorrow, don’t expect much. Since their election in 2006, Conservatives have mentioned the Royal Proclamation exactly once in the House of Commons. Last January, Harper casually recognized its significance.
This birthday, like so many others, will pass into history, no more than a footnote in Canadian history classes. Just like George III.
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