Nation-to-Nation Relationship

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

nation-to-nationConcept description

Nation-to-nation relationship has been used to describe a way in which indigenous entities could interact with governments in Canada but the exact meaning is still unclear.

The Liberal Party platform for the 2015 election (reference below) included:

“It is time for Canada to have a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. This is both the right thing to do and a sure path to economic growth.

“We will immediately re-engage in a renewed nation-to-nation process with Indigenous Peoples to make progress on the issues most important to First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit communities – issues like housing, infrastructure, health and mental health care, community safety and policing, child welfare, and education.”

The government’s Speech from the Throne (reference below) included:

“Because it is both the right thing to do and a certain path to economic growth, the Government will undertake to renew, nation-to-nation, the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples, one based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.”

In his 6 December 2016 address to the Assembly of First Nations, Prime Minister Trudeau (reference below) made two references to nation-to-nation:

“I do not take my call for a nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples lightly.”

“It is of the greatest imperative that all of us here never allow Canadians the chance to fear that due to a lack of joint leadership, of a true nation-to-nation dialogue and relationship, we aren’t able to achieve this most vital of goals.”

Observers such as the Globe and Mail’s national political columnist, Jeffrey Simpson (reference below), questioned what this means:

“The Trudeau government wants to improve the lot of aboriginal peoples in Canada. It wishes to elevate their economic standing, give them more control over their own lives, improve their often lamentable social circumstances and engage in “nation-to-nation” relationships.

“How a “nation-to-nation” relationship is supposed to work between Canada, with 36 million people, and more than 600 indigenous nations, often with fewer than 1,000 people, remains one of Canada’s policy mysteries. It is one of those phrases that falls off political tongues, but is made difficult when confronted by reality.

“That reality is made murkier by disagreements across Canada about who “owns” or has ultimate title to land, disagreements fuelled by court decisions that have been interpreted by indigenous groups as giving them title, even without a proven claim.

“Nonetheless, “nation-to-nation” relations is the government’s stated goal. To that end, government ministers are pondering some sort of formula that would offer or guarantee indigenous peoples a share of revenue projects within, say, a certain fiscal band. Whether this formula would be a non-binding framework, or something with more teeth, is unclear.”

In an interview with iPolitics (reference below), Joe Wild, senior assistant deputy minister for treaties and aboriginal government at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, provided some detail:

“Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) has opened around 20 “exploratory tables” – as the department is calling them – with indigenous leaders on potential self-government and land agreements, said Joe Wild, senior assistant deputy minister for treaties and aboriginal government, during an exclusive interview with iPolitics.

“The exploratory tables – a series of non-binding discussion groups that are meant to find consensus ahead of tougher negotiations over powers — have the potential to one day create the material for a broad, national policy on indigenous self-government and sovereignty rights. But that isn’t necessarily the goal.

“”It helps to inform how we’re developing a policy framework that maybe knits some of this together and maybe your policy framework really just ends up being just a bunch of core principles to help guide policy,” said Wild, speaking in his office overlooking the Ottawa River in Gatineau.

“The tables are predicated on the unique challenges of having a policy on indigenous self-government, which could easily lose legitimacy if INAC took a strong-arm approach. That’s why the department calls the tables “co-development” – it’s a vision-making process that is supposed to lead to shared ideas about ultimate aims rather than beginning with an adversarial forum.

“”It’s more flexibility on my end to be able to say, ‘We’re going to allow for the fact that things can look a little different in different communities based on needs – and based on their actual experience of what their needs are on the ground and I don’t need to force anyone into a cookie-cutter approach,'” said Wild.

“The tables represent a significant break from past approaches in that Ottawa is open to hearing more innovative ideas about how to entrench indigenous rights into the core of how communities are governed, said Wild.”


Canada (2015), Speech from the Throne, 4 December 2015, Making Real Change Happen, at, accessed 2 October 2016.

Liberal Party of Canada (2015), A New Nation-to-Nation Process, at Anthony Hall and Gretchen Albers (2015), Aboriginal Treaties, Canadian Encyclopedia, at, accessed 2 October 2016.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (2016), Speech to the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly, at, accessed 11 February 2017.

Jeffrey Simpson (2016), What exactly is a ‘nation-to-nation’ relationship? Globe and Mail, 25 March 2016, at, accessed 2 October 2016.

James Munson (2016), Nation-to-nation relationship taking shape, iPolitics, 4 June 2016, at, accessed 2 October 2016.

Topic, subject and Atlas course

Indigenous Governance in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 11 February 2017.

Image: James Munson (2016), Nation-to-nation relationship taking shape, iPolitics, 4 June 2016, at, accessed 2 October 2016.