Welcome to the Constitution Express Digital Collection

Notice In fall 2022, the Constitution Express digital collection will be migrated to a new site with the ability for user comments, annotations, and item saving to your research account.

UBCIC celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Constitution Express.

In 2020, UBCIC honours the departure of the Constitution Express in November 1980. The above song and sharing comes from the UBCIC 50th Anniversary Banquet where some individuals from the express came together and sang. Millie Poplar also spoke on the historic moment.

UBCIC is pleased to present this digital collection. We invite your perusal and participation in this collection. Upon registration, users can leave comments on material in the collection as well as participate in forum discussions. In addition, we encourge contributions from individuals who may have additional material (photos, oral histories, video, etc). If you have questions about contributing, please contact the site administrator at library@ubcic.bc.ca.

The repatriation of the Constitution was a moment of crisis for Aboriginal people with the realization in 1980 that proposed versions to the "new" constitution would effectively end recognition of Aboriginal title and rights.

The Constitution Express was a 3000 mile trek to the seat of the federal government. The purpose of this journey was to tell Trudeau and his government that the Indian people have rights as the first inhabitants of this land, and that these rights have been guaranteed by treaty and historical agreement between Indian Nations and the British Government.

The Constitution Express was a grass roots Aboriginal political movement led by George Manuel, then President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. This peaceful protest resulted in an Ottawa-bound cross-country train journy of Aboriginal activist, community members, and others, that gathered over 1000 people nationwide along the way. Over 100 people from the movement continued to Europe in 1981 to build pressure and support for the Aboriginal cause. As a result of this an other actions, section 35, recognizing Aboriginal title and rights, was included in the constitution.

The first Constitution Express left Vancouver on November 24, 1980. Two trains taking separate routes and picking up people along the way merged in Winnipeg and continued on to Ottawa, arriving on November 28. An All Chiefs Conference, workshops, and demonstrations took place until December 5.

On December 6, the Constitution Express continued on to New York to raise awareness and to ask officials of the United Nations to intervene as a mediator between the Indian Governments of Canada and the Canadian and British Governments. The lobby consisted of a statement of goal in a form of petition stating that a positive approach is in order, one that would elevate constitutional patriation and amendments to exercising enstatesmanship and true Nation building.

The following fall, a second Constitution Express delegation left on November 1, 1981 for Europe. The trip included stops in Germany, Holland, Belgium, and the UK. The British Parliament was petitioned to refuse to patriate the Canadian constitution until it could be done without prejudice to Aboriginal people.

The digital collection includes material from the Union's newsletter, Indian World: The Choice is Ours, UBCIC Special General Assembly meeting minutes, audio and video recordings, and approximately 500 photos.