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The 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples highlights Self-Determination in the following ways:
The arguments for recognizing that Aboriginal peoples are nations spring from the past and the present. They were nations when they forged military and trade alliances with European nations. They were nations when they signed treaties to share their lands and resources. And they are nations today – in their coherence, their distinctiveness and their understanding of themselves.
In international law, which Canada respects, all peoples have a right of self- determination. Self-determination includes governance, so Indigenous peoples are entitled to choose their own forms of government, within existing states.
Aboriginal peoples' right of self-government within Canada is acknowledged and protected by the constitution. It recognizes that Aboriginal rights are older than Canada itself and that their continuity was part of the bargain between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people that made Canada possible.
Every Nation in Canada traces their existence and their systems of governance back as far as memory and oral history will extend. They all share that the ultimate source of their right to be self-governing and self-determined is the creator, and this will be knowledge carried over generations within each Nation and in perpetuity. Every Nations origin stories shares how the creator placed them on their territories and gave the people of those lands the responsibility and accountability for the caring and sustainability for those lands, it resources, all living creatures within those lands, all the elements, and each other until the end of time.
In article 3 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) it is that, “Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
In article 4 of UNDRIP, it is codified that “Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”
The Government of Canada shares that Indigenous peoples have a special constitutional relationship with the Crown and has committed to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. Through the Governments of Canada’s commitment “to achieving reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through a renewed, nation-to-nation, government-to-government, and Inuit-Crown relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership as the foundation for transformative change”, it has laid out 10 principles in which this will be achieved and the first one is:
1. 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.
And lastly, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OCED’s) Rural Policy Review, Linking Indigenous Communities to Regional Development, vibrant Indigenous economies are fundamental to self-determination, stating:
“Vibrant Indigenous economies are achievable through the leadership and innovation of Indigenous communities with governments supporting them to deliver on their objectives for development. Activating these opportunities depends on four interconnected elements:
I. Good data;
II. Enabling policies for entrepreneurship;
III. Instruments to mobilise land for development; and
IV. Effective and inclusive governance. Across these four elements, a place-based approach is critical to match these elements with the diverse needs and aspirations of Indigenous peoples across different types of regions and empowering them to take a leadership role in regional and rural development strategies.”
As you can see, over many decades, there has been tons of work done on Indigenous Self-Determination, like the 1986 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples which laid out a tremendous opportunity for the Federal Government to support all Indigenous Peoples’ self-determination. Then there was the Kelowna Accord in 2005, which was going to “close the gap” between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous standard of living in Canada, with the aim of significantly improving health, education, housing and infrastructure, economic opportunities, accountability, and relationships between Indigenous communities and the federal government. In 2007 came UNDRIP, which of course the Canadian Government did not endorse until 2016 and finally in 2020 they created legislation to implement UNDRIP in Canada. And the Province of BC has also made this commitment through the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. In the early years, each of these Reconciliation milestone reports were met with such great political resistance, that much of the work was not supported in any significant way, if it all. Meaning, we are still struggling in this country to achieve this in my lifetime.
In the new era of Indigenous self-determination, the Canadian Government is no less committed to the preservation of Canadian national sovereignty despite its colonial and genocidal foundations, is not any less resistant to Indigenous claims on the “Canadian” territory (even though they are the First Peoples of this land and was removed from their care), resources or jurisdictional authority and are more than willing to utilize their dominant patriarchal position to limit the concessions Canada is required to make in the face of Indigenous demands. As a result, Indigenous people are confronted with a basic question: how do we continue to translate the promise of self-determination into more tangible and meaningful forms of political, economic and socio-cultural empowerment?
Nevertheless, I fight as my parents, grandparents and all my other ancestors did before me. I do it for our son and our great grandchildren’s great grandchildren. Yet, we shouldn’t need to fight, as we can move towards economic reconciliation together, even in the face of the federal governments lack of meaningful support. In my experience, it is just good business to keep the “Indians’ in a dependent state. Thus the lack of real transformation of current state and unwillingness to envision a new future state where we are fully self-governing and determined.