Indigenous Self-Government Vital

By McKenna, Peter | Winnipeg Free Press, September 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

Indigenous Self-Government Vital


McKenna, Peter, Winnipeg Free Press


Recently, the Trudeau government introduced a series of initiatives to further Indigenous self-government and self-determination — including the splitting of the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs into two separate ministries. The new Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations will be tasked with accelerating “self-government and self-determination agreements based on new policies, laws and operational practices.”

This is a very tricky policy file — replete with political land mines, twists and turns and huge impediments — but one that can’t be ignored forever.

In July, the federal Justice Department released its 10 principles that will guide the governing Liberals in securing reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. The very first principle is strikingly clear: “The Government of Canada recognizes that all relations with indigenous peoples need to be based on the recognition and implementation of their right to self-determination, including the inherent right of self-government.”

To begin, the concept of Indigenous self-government is not a new idea in Canada. One could go back to the 1966 Hawthorn-Tremblay Report, Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 White Paper and the (Keith) Penner Report of 1983 right up to the “third order of government” proposed in the ill-fated 1992 Charlottetown Accord and the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

Furthermore, there are already several self-government agreements with the Cree in Quebec, the Nisga’a in British Columbia and the Inuit of Nunavut. There is also a groundbreaking self-government arrangement — the Mi’kmaq Education Act — between the Mi’kmaq and the government of Nova Scotia.

But much of the debate in non-Indigenous circles has surrounded the exact definition of self-government and its wider implications. Stated differently, all levels of government and office-holders in Canada want to know how it will impact existing power structures, constitutional and justice matters, fiduciary arrangements and economic/resource/land development issues, among other things.

Another key sticking point is the precise nature of the self-government model in question — that is, will it be based on a current municipal (urban), provincial or federal template? It is important to note that many First Nations reserves or bands in Canada have fewer than 1,000 members. So would that require the creation of, say, a regional self-government model?

What does seem a non-starter, though, is any move to impose a “cookie-cutter” or “one-size-fits-all” approach to Indigenous self-government — which federal government departments in Ottawa have traditionally favoured. A way forward will have to be found that allows for diversity, flexibility, unique circumstances and differences and a tailoring to specific Indigenous needs. …

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