UBCIC Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Constitution Express

News Release
November 28, 2020

UBCIC Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Constitution Express

((Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. – November 28, 2020) On November 24, 1980, a group of Indigenous activists and community members led by Grand Chief George Manuel, then president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), embarked on two trains from Vancouver to the seat of the federal government in Ottawa. Facing a time of great upheaval, they sought to ensure that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau would recognize, not abolish, Indigenous rights in the proposed patriation of the Canadian Constitution.

Today UBCIC is honoured to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this landmark 3,000-mile trek across Canada and its arrival in Ottawa – the Constitution Express. The Constitution Express was a journey and movement that would galvanize not only the nation, but the whole world, changing the very fabric of the Canadian Constitution.

Moving from province to province, the Constitution Express garnered the attention and support of the wider Canadian public and precipitated a nationwide movement to prevent the new Constitution from effectively ending the recognition of Indigenous Title and Rights. By the time the Constitution Express arrived in Ottawa, the trainloads of supporters numbered approximately one thousand strong. Forty-one members of the Constitution Express would continue on to the United Nations in New York, and then to Europe to share their message, concerns, and experiences with an international audience. Ultimately, the Constitution Express brought national and international attention and support to advancing Indigenous Title and Rights and caused the Trudeau government to capitulate to the demands of Indigenous leaders and organizations – in 1982 the pivotal Section 35 would be added to the Canadian Constitution to specifically recognize and affirm Aboriginal and treaty rights. 

UBCIC celebrates the anniversary of this momentous assertion of Title and Rights, and encourages the public to visit and learn more about the Constitution Express at the UBCIC Constitution Express Digital Collection, an invaluable collection of archival materials, recordings, and photographs,”


Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the UBCIC: “As the Constitution Express crossed Canada, Indigenous people began to rally behind a belief and mission that has defined and shaped the Union of BC Indian Chiefs we know today: Indigenous peoples are the first inhabitants of the land, with inherent Title and Rights the government has the duty to recognize and honour, including through treaties and historical agreements.”

Chief Don Tom, Vice-President of the UBCIC: “What the impending patriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1980 truly signaled was the transference of colonial powers from one nation to another – from Britain to Canada. The patriation of the constitution meant that Canada would have the authority to amend its own laws and effectively relieve itself of any responsibility for recognizing Indigenous Title and Rights, and Sovereignty- we honour those Indigenous leaders and citizens that fought back against this attempted abdication of responsibility."

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer of the UBCIC: “The late Grand Chief George Manuel and the delegation of Constitution Express supporters refused to see Canada carry out its blatantly oppressive and tyrannical intent and called out Prime Minister Trudeau for attempting to extinguish not only their rights, but their voices. We owe it to the courageous members of the Constitution Express for sowing the seeds of change and securing Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution which has laid the framework for the recognition and implementation of inherent Indigenous Title and Rights today.”

Mildred Poplar: “Forty years have gone by since the Indian Constitution Express took the world stage to bring attention to the plight of the Indian Nations in Canada.  Through the Indigenous Peoples' political and legal actions at that time, we questioned the honor of the Crown in Great Britain and the Canadian Government's attempt to extinguish our Aboriginal, Title, Rights and Treaties.  Our people took the high road of Nationhood.  There are many Indian Nations to thank for taking the Indian Constitution Express to Ottawa, England and Europe.  We honour the legacy of our peoples who led this fight and who are no longer with us today. We held onto our Truth for future generations to hold onto our Lands.”

Kukpi7 Wayne Christian: “As one of the chiefs assigned with Chief Bobby Manuel, Chief Archie Pootlas, Chief Saul Terry to lead the Constitution Express in 1980 to Ottawa & the United Nations, and in 1981 to 7 European Countries, the Constitution Express was the result of ordinary Indians with extraordinary determination doing whatever it took to let the world know that we as Indian Nations did not consent to the severing of our Nation to Nation relationship with the Crown embedded in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. As we marched and sang our songs, and did ceremonies on foreign soil, we were guided by our ancestors who proclaimed sovereignty in 1763 and who fought for the Crown in the second world war. We were fighting for freedom and recognition as Indian Nations who are sovereign with lands, laws, ceremonies, and our languages. Today we honour those ordinary Indians who had extraordinary determination, many who are now in the spirit world.”

To learn more about the Constitution Express and access UBCIC’s online collection of archival materials and photographs, visit: http://constitution.ubcic.bc.ca/node/13


Media inquiries:

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of UBCIC: (250-490-5314)
Chief Don Tom, Vice-President of UBCIC: (604-290-6083)
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer of UBCIC: (c/o 604-842-2977)

Kukpi7 Wayne Christian, Splatsin First Nation: [email protected]         

UBCIC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

For more information please visit www.ubcic.bc.ca

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