Abele and Prince’s Four Models of Aboriginal Self-Government

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

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Concept description

In their influential 2006 article (reference below), Frances Abele and Michael J. Prince suggested four potential models for Aboriginal self-government in Canada.

The four models are:

  1. Mini-municipalities embedded in federalism-as-usual
  2. New subnational entities in a modest adaptation of Canadian federalism (adapted federalism)
  3. A fully-developed third order of government in the federation (trilateral federalism)
  4. Aboriginal governments as part of a treaty-based alliance between the Aboriginal governments and the Crown in Canada (nation-to-nation).

Frances and Prince note that:

“The models differ by the constitutional status of Aboriginal governments and their political relationship to the Canadian state system. Each model is a set of ideas, preferences, and practices about Aboriginal governance and Canadian federalism, and contains different choices, possibilities, and constraints for self-determination. To examine models of self-determination is to examine the beliefs of people who want it, the varying visions of those people regarding what it might be and should be, as well as the beliefs of those who reject or challenge a certain vision.”

They summarize the principal differences as:

FourModels1The power relations embodied in the four models are summarized as:

FourModels2Abele and Prince summarize the prospects for each of the models as follows:

  • “The mini-municipality model has few supporters within Aboriginal communities, and none among Aboriginal scholars in Canada, although it remains favored by some provincial governments and non-Aboriginal academics and commentators. Despite advances in policy discourse and action in recent decades, some degree of colonial beliefs and assimilation thinking persists in Canadian society and in our political party system. Even though this model has very few advocates, perhaps paradoxically, it is likely to persist for some time in First Nations communities and its ultimate demise will probably be uneven and full of reversals. Certainly, this has been the pattern for the last several decades.”
  • “It is unlikely, as discussed earlier, that there will be much Aboriginal demand for “adaptation” of the federation by creating new provinces or territories. Should such demand surface … provinces would likely accept a new territory (which would remain a federal fiscal responsibility) but resist a new province. They would be concerned about dilution of provincial power and the financial implications of sharing the equalization pie with what would almost certainly be another “have-not” province. While this is not an insurmountable barrier, it is an indication that the adapted federalism model would face profound implementation challenges.”
  • “The model implicitly endorsed by the federal government (and by the Penner Report and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples) is the creation of a third order of Aboriginal government, with a certain set of jurisdictions embedded within the Canadian federation and constitutional framework. Despite the supportive constitutional context and some supportive leading court decisions, this model will not be adopted promptly or homogeneously. Federal policy to negotiate the expression of the inherent right of self-determination group by group has resulted in a multiplicity of treaty tables and negotiating processes. This state of affairs consumes time and financial resources while placing formidable burdens of coordination on the participating Aboriginal groups and their federal negotiating partners. The overall effect is fragmentation rather than convergence.  Furthermore, there is general public hesitation to endorse what appears to be (and in fact would be) a large change in Canada’s constitutional order. This hesitation is shared among officials in local governments, private-sector firms, and Aboriginal communities. In addition, opposition to this model comes from Aboriginal leaders and intellectuals who hold the position that Aboriginal nations are sovereign entities, joined to the Crown by treaty but not subordinate to it. … For these reasons, it is doubtful that a third order will be added to the Canadian Constitution as a single large initiative. Quite possibly, though, the third order will grow incrementally out of current governing processes, until implementing a third order will seem less like a revolutionary change and more like recognition of an emergent reality.”
  • “Prospects for the nation-to-nation model are uncertain and contested, given sharply divergent tendencies. There is strong and persistent support for this model by some Aboriginal leaders and by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal scholars. Federal policy, as well as provincial and territorial policies, and the positions of all  political parties in Canada, explicitly reject this model. Although we have found no polling data on this precise question, we suspect that most members of the general Canadian public would similarly reject the model, at least on first hearing, as either ideologically unacceptable or manifestly impractical. Many other members of the policy community (and the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples) confront the model with some ambiguity and imprecision. For these reasons, treaty federalism will most likely not become the main pathway to self-determination for Aboriginal peoples. On the other hand, it exists now as the vision of Aboriginal-Canadian relations held by the Haudenosaunee, and it is from within that vision that they have lived side by side with Canadians for several centuries. In that limited respect, the model has prevailed.”

Abele, Frances, and Michael J. Prince. 2009. “Four Pathways to Aboriginal Self-Government in Canada.” American Review of Canadian Studies 36(4): 568-595.

Normed topic and synthetic course with which the concept is primarily associated

This concept is primarily associated with the core normed topic Indigenous Governance in the public management subject of Governance and Institutions.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 8 April 2016.

Image: National Aboriginal History Month, UNE-SEN, at https://www.une-sen.org/press/?p=2403, 10 December 2015.