Two Roads Diverged: A Comparative Analysis of Indigenous Rights in a North American Constitutional Context

Article excerpt

Fuelled by contrasting political backdrops, indigenous tribes on opposite sides of what has become the Canadian-American border have travelled upon very different trajectories, receiving dissimilar treatment from the respective governments that have laid claim to their lands.

Indian tribes in the United States have sometimes had progressive legislators and high-ranking government officials enact bold laws and policies that were instrumental in creating positive change. Inversely, Aboriginal peoples in Canada have generally had to muddle through decade after decade of middling, indifferent, or occasionally even malicious bureaucrats who have continued to be too sheepish or backward-thinking to make any significant improvements. Further, the Canadian Parliament has yet to offer any substantive legislation in the vein and magnitude of that which was vital in making positive changes for American Indian tribes, even though numerous independent sources have pointed to such an approach. Rather, decades of piecemeal legislation have served only as a half-hearted attempt to counter the more odious effects of the archaic Indian Act, while those laudable governmental voices that have called for bold, substantial change have been largely ignored.

Alimentees par des contextes politiques divergents, les tribus autochtones de part et d'autre de la frontiere canado-americaine ont parcouru des trajectoires assez differentes, faisant l'objet de traitements dissimilaires de la part de leur gouvernement respectif ayant revendique leurs terres.

Les tribus amerindiennes aux Etats-Unis ont pu quelquefois profiter de la collaboration de legislateurs et de responsables gouvernementaux progressistes qui ont promulgue des lois et des politiques courageuses ayant contribue a l'avenement de changements positifs. A l'inverse, les peuples autochtones du Canada ont generalement eu a se debrouiller seuls, decennie apres decennie, devant des bureaucrates mediocres, indifferents, ou parfois meme malveillants et trop penauds ou regressifs pour apporter des ameliorations significatives. En outre, le Parlement canadien n'a toujours pas propose de legislation substantielle dans la meme veine et ampleur des textes americains, et ce meme a la lumiere de nombreuses sources independantes favorisant une telle approche. Plutot, des decennies de mesures legislatives fragmentaires n'ont servi que de timide tentative pour contrer les effets les plus odieux de l'archaique Loi sur les Indiens, alors que les voix gouvernementales louables, ayant fait appel a d'importantes et d'audacieuses ameliorations, ont ete largement iguorees.


I. Historical Starting Lines: Dissimilar Beginnings

   A. United States
      1. Preconstitutional United States
      2. Postconstitutional United States
      3. States Versus Tribes

   B. Canada
      1. Preconstitutional Canada
      2. Subjects and Non-citizens Versus Nonsubjects
         and Non-citizens
      3. Postconstitutional Canada
      4. Provinces Versus Bands

II. Darkest Before the Dawn for Tribes in the United States

   A. The Indian Reorganization Act
   B. John Collier
   C Felix Cohen
   D. Duncan Campbell Scott

III. Termination and the Indian White Paper

   A. Termination
   B Self-Determination
   C The Indian White Paper

IV. Modern Challenges

   A. Canada and the Charter
   B. The United States and Its Constitution



On September 8, 1760, British military forces under the command of General Amherst surrounded Montreal in a three-pronged attack, forcing France to capitulate and effectively putting an end to the French and Indian War, (1) a conflict that had been raging across much of North America since 1754. Upon the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France lost all of its North American mainland possessions, (2) leaving Great Britain as the dominant European power on the continent. In order to assuage the concerns of Indian (3) tribes over this transfer of power, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1768, which obstructed English settlement "upon any Lands whatever, which, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us . …