In 1980, the Federal Government proposed a resolution to the Canadian Constitution. On September 15, 1980 the UBCIC, in reviewing the position of the Federal Government on Patriation of the Canadian Constitution, discovered that the Indian people would lose all of their aboriginal rights should this occur. At the 12th Annual General Assembly, the Chiefs passed a resolution that "the convention give full mandate to the UBCIC to take the necessary steps to ensure that Indian Governments; Indian Lands, Aboriginal Rights and Treaty Rights are entrenched in the Canadian Constitution" (October 14-17, 1980). The aboriginal people of BC decided to take action.
The Constitutional Express was designed in conjunction with other political and legal moves instituted to delay patriation and buy time for the Indian people in Canada to consolidate a strong position regarding the Government’s proposition. The primary goals of the express were to keep the focus of both the national and international publics attention on the Constitution issue, to bring Indian people together in a united front against the assault on their rights and to prevent Trudeau’s government from quietly passing the resolution.
Two trainloads of people made up of Band members and Chiefs, boarded trains which left Vancouver, British Columbia, on November 24, 1980 bound for the nations capital, Ottawa. The trains made stops along the way, picking up more passengers and making presentations to the communities and the media. Approximately 1000 people arrived in Ottawa to give speeches to the communities and lobby the government officials. A small delegation continued on to the United Nations in New York.
Raising consciousness on the national level was not sufficient. The Union, under the leadership of George Manuel sent the Constitutional Express to Europe. The Express visited the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium and England. The UBCIC brought the voices of the people in the communities throughout the country to the international arena and made it clear that the aboriginal people of Canada would not stand back and allow their rights to be infringed upon. The excellent organization, forethought and vision of the Constitutional Express not only raised the consciousness of the public but also brought back the pride of the aboriginal peoples and the strength which has always been needed to fight for the recognition, the survival and the promotion of our rights.
Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 relates to the rights of Aboriginal Peoples of Canada. It states:
35. (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
(2) In this Act, "aboriginal peoples of Canada" includes Indian, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada.
(3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1), "treaty rights" includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.
(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.
35.1 The government of Canada and the provincial governments are committed to the principle that, before any amendment is made to Class 24 of section 91 of the "Constitution Act, 1867", to section 25 of this Act or to this Part,
(a) a constitutional conference that includes in its agenda an item relating to the proposed amendment, composed of the Prime Minister of Canada and the first ministers of the provinces, will be convened by the Prime Minister of Canada; and
(b) the Prime Minister of Canada will invite representatives of the aboriginal peoples of Canada to participate in discussions on that item.
UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.