Context for Indigenous Governance in Canada
Indigenous governance in Canada is an complex, contested topic that is shaped by its historical, legal, geographical, political, and socio-economic contexts.
Each of these contexts has a substantial body of literature; the modest aim of this page is to provide public management students with a sense of the importance of the context for indigenous governance, and to offer links to additional online resources.
One result of the dynamism and and sensitivity of the context for Indigenous governance in Canada is the fluidity of terminology. See, for example, Indigenous Peoples – A Guide to Terminology and the recent briefing note for Canadian Parliamentarians:
Tonina Simeone (2015), Indigenous Peoples: Terminology and Identity, Hill Notes 14 December 2015, Library of Parliament, https://hillnotes.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/indigenous-peoples-terminology-and-identity/, accessed 3 October 2016.
The history of Indigenous governance in the land that is now Canada is, to put it mildly, contentious. Harry Swain (reference below) writes:
“We are halfway into a thousand-year collision between Europeans, mostly, and the indigenous peoples of Canada: in other words, probably at the point of maximum confusion. Old colonial certainties have collapsed and a hundred old and new ideas are contending.”
Very readable summaries of elements of this history can be found at the Canadian Encyclopedia and at the Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC) website, including:
Canadian Encyclopedia (2015), Indigenous Peoples, with links to dozens of other articles in the encyclopedia, at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-people/, accessed 3 October 2016.
Tonio Sadik, Noel Dyck, and Gretchen Albers (2016), Indigenous People: Political Organization and Activism, Canadian Encyclopedia, at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-people-political-organization-and-activism/, accessed 3 October 2016.
William Henderson and Gretchen Albers (2015), Self-Government – Indigenous Peoples, Canadian Encyclopedia, at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-self-government/, accessed 1 October 2016.
INAC (2013), First Nations in Canada, at http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1307460755710/1307460872523, accessed 30 September 2016.
Contrasting perspectives from prominent Indigenous scholars include:
Taiaiake Alfred (2016), Reconciliation as Recolonization, Public Lecture at Concordia University, 20 September 2016, YouTube video, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEiNu7UL7TM, accessed 3 October 2016.
Cindy Blackstock (2016), Bringing Justice to Indigenous Communities, Presentation at the Progress Summit, Broadbent Institute, 2 April 2016, YouTube video, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKV3_6fQJkI, accessed 6 October 2016.
CBC, Mansbridge One on One (2016), Cindy Blackstock, 14 February 2016, YouTube video, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahGQ0WBd0ng, accessed 6 October 2016.
John Borrows (2015), Governance – Canada’s Indian Act, Lecture 2 in Law 340, University of Victoria, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lgrZCBIwwA&list=PLtpQnJMAvMoRWtgFq1kj22tHeNOh5U2I4, accessed 9 October 2016. Note: Lectures 2-24 in this course are available at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3GVqsk_81azYxiGda4j6iQ/videos?shelf_id=0&view=0&sort=dd.
John Borrows (2015), Aboriginal Title and Private Property, The Supreme Court Law Review – Osgoode’s Annual Constitutional Cases Conference, Volume 71, Article 5, at http://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1307&context=sclr, accessed 9 October 2016.
Pam Palmater (2015), Taking Back Kanada, presentation at the Institute for the Humanities, 24 September 2015, You Tube video, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lWluP-3qOA, accessed 3 October 2016.
Hayden King (2015), Picturing the Americas, Art Gallery of Ontario, YouTube Video, Parts 1 and 2, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srP7DHWwYYI, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EpFq_ziVWc, accessed 3 October 2016.
Douglas Sanderson (2013), Toward an Aboriginal Grand Strategy, Global Brief, 17 June 2013, at http://globalbrief.ca/blog/2013/06/17/toward-an-aboriginal-grand-strategy/, and YouTube video, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSzl4pnD08E, accessed 3 October 2016.
Given the importance of rights and treaties in this history it is not surprising that legal processes and Court decisions play a central role in the evolution of Indigenous governance in Canada. Atlas entries include:
Open access articles that provide further detail on the legal context include:
William Henderson (2014), Law of Indigenous People, Canadian Encyclopedia, at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-people-law/, accessed 3 October 2016.
Catherine Bell, William Henderson, and Gretchen Albers, Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Canadian Encyclopedia, at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-rights/, accessed 3 October 2016.
Mary Hurley (2009), Settling Comprehensive Land Claims, Library of Parliament Research Publications, 21 September 2009, at http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/ResearchPublications/prb0916-e.htm, accessed 3 October 2016.
The geographical context for indigenous governance is important for two reasons. First, land has a special place in Indigenous cultures (in his 2016 lecture referenced above, Taiaiake Alfred reiterates, “It’s all about the land”) and, second, the geographical characteristics of Indigenous communities affect the economic and social opportunities of their members.
The online resources at the INAC Map Room (link on right) and INAC First Nations Profiles help depict this geographical context:
INAC (2016), Map Room, at http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1290453474688/1290453673970, accessed 30 September 2016.
INAC (2015), First Nations Profiles, at http://fnp-ppn.aandc-aadnc.gc.ca/fnp/Main/index.aspx?lang=eng, accessed 30 September 2016.
The limited economic prospects associated with small, isolated communities, has been remarked upon by some commentators, for example:
Jonathan Kay (2016), Moving is the only hope for communities like Attawapiskat, National Post, 16 April 2016, at http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/jonathan-kay-little-hope-for-attawapiskat-as-long-as-its-people-stay-put, accessed 3 October 2016.
Jeffrey Simpson (2016), It takes more than money to close an education gap, Globe and Mail, 12 February 2016, at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/globe-politics-insider/jeffrey-simpson-it-takes-more-than-money-to-close-an-education-gap/article28733124/, accessed 3 April 2016.
Jeffrey Simpson (2013), Too many first nations people live in a dream palace, Globe and Mail, 5 January 2013, at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/too-many-first-nations-people-live-in-a-dream-palace/article6929035/, accessed 3 April 2016.
Indigenous Canadians have lower scores on most socioeconomic indicators than non-Indigenous Canadians. Results from the 2011 National Household Survey can be found at:
Statistics Canada, Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit, at http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-011-x/99-011-x2011001-eng.cfm, accessed 30 September 2016.
Graphic depictions of Indigenous urban poverty can be seen in the 2014 documentary by two German film makers:
Max Fabian Meis and Ferdinand Carrière (2014), We Will Be Free, Downsideup Film Productions, 60-minute film at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXT2JXe8mnA, 3-minute official trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_kuDU04_DA, accessed 2 October 2016.
Governance is inextricably linked to politics and Indigenous governance is affected by political developments within and between Indigenous communities and by political developments in the country as a whole.
Politics play a large part in decisions to undertake major policy reviews, such as:
During the last Canadian federal election the victorious party committed to be more respectful of the governance aspirations of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Promises included:
- Implementing all recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
- Adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
- Adopting a Nation-to-Nation Relationship
Several commentators have opined on the extent to which these promises are feasible and the extent to which they would affect realities on the ground, including:
Harry Swain (2016). Should we implement UNDRIP, Walter Gordon Symposium, 23 March 2016, http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Harry-Swain-2016-Should-We-Implement-UNDRIP-Walter-Gordon-Symposium-1.pdf, accessed 7 April 2016.
Jeffrey Simpson (2016), What exactly is a ‘nation-to-nation’ relationship? Globe and Mail, 25 March 2016, at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/globe-politics-insider/jeffrey-simpson-what-exactly-is-a-nation-to-nation-relationship/article29379888/, accessed 2 October 2016.
James Munson (2016), Nation-to-nation relationship taking shape, iPolitics, 4 June 2016, at https://ipolitics.ca/2016/06/04/nation-to-nation-relationship-is-starting-to-take-shape-says-inac/, accessed 2 October 2016.
Governmental (INAC) context
Key links from the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada website include:
First Nation Profiles Interactive Map at http://fnpim-cippn.aandc-aadnc.gc.ca/index-eng.html, accessed 5 December 2016.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, 2016-17 Report on Plans and Priorities, at http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1453826795178/1453826845637, accessed 5 December 2016.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, 2015-16 Departmental Performance Report, at http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1466532403785/1466532431821, accessed 5 December 2016.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Audit and Evaluation Reports (2007-08 to 2015-16) at https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100011247/1100100011248, accessed 5 December 2016.
Harry Swain (2016), Paths to reconciliation in the post-Tsilhqot’in world, Privy Council Office seminar on aboriginal law and policy, Ottawa, 4 April 2016, uploaded to the Atlas by permission of the author at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Harry-Swain-2016-Paths-to-reconciliation.pdf.
Topic, subject and Atlas course
Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 5 December 2016.
Image: Indian Country Today Media Network, Tribal Nations Map, at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/11/12/new-pre-contact-map-transforming-understanding-south-america-one-tribe-time-162324, accessed 3 October 2016.