With Canadian aboriginals celebrating the 250th year of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech of August 28, 1963, resonated strongly above the 49th parallel.
First Nations and other Indigenous Peoples of the north also looked to the inspiring words of King, who gave the iconic speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, overlooking the National Mall. On Wednesday tens of thousands again gathered to hear the nation’s first African-American president as he stood on the same spot.
But people around the world were listening as well.
“Today is an important day for all those who believe in freedom, justice and rights,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a statement on August 28. “Many First Nations in Canada share Dr. King Jr.’s vision and the demand for justice, dignity and respect, and the fight to give life to rights that have been recognized but are not being implemented. For African Americans it was voting rights and equal opportunity; for First Nations it is inherent Aboriginal and Treaty rights as recognized in Canada’s own Constitution and decisions by its own Supreme Court.”
During a year that has seen revelations of nutritional and medical experiments being performed on aboriginal children, Atleo stressed that the only way is forward. Like King, Atleo emphasized the need for all segments of society to work together.
“This is an important opportunity to review and reflect on the relationship between First Nations and Canada, and to set a path forward based on the principles of partnership, mutual respect and mutual recognition,” he said. “Our dream is of a return to that original relationship, and it is a dream we can achieve today if we work together. We will settle for nothing less.”