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Indigenous Self-Determination in Canada


In Canada:


1. Historical Violation of Self-Determination:


The Crown colonized Indigenous Peoples in Canada under a policy of assimilation and genocide.

For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.”

Physical genocide is the mass killing of the members of a targeted group, and biological genocide is the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity. Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.

In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.

Canada asserted control over Aboriginal land. In some locations, Canada negotiated Treaties with First Nations; in others, the land was simply occupied or seized. The negotiation of Treaties, while seemingly honourable and legal, was often marked by fraud and coercion, and Canada was, and remains, slow to implement their provisions and intent.”1 [Emphasis Added]


2. Ongoing Violation of Self-Determination:


Canada clearly violated the constitutive element of Indigenous Peoples’ self-determination for over a century. The question becomes, is there an ongoing violation of self-determination that requires remediation? If so, it is representative of an ongoing oppressive condition that denies self-determination.


Throughout our website, we have discussed the continuing colonization and assimilation of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples by the Government of Canada. The current relationship retains the Doctrine of Discovery, the Framework of Colonization, and their oppressive effects on Indigenous Peoples.  


Below are twelve facets of Canada’ current relationship with Indigenous Peoples. These twelve facets are not an exhaustive list. However, they do unambiguously reveal the ongoing oppression of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the continued denial of the freedom and equality needed for the self-determination of their cultural, social, political, and economic realms.

1.  The Crown’s assumed sovereignty replaces Immemorial and international rights-based Indigenous sovereignty to lands, resources, and peoples;

2.  Aboriginal and Treaty rights under section 35 create an alternate rights regime that replaces Immemorial and international rights of Indigenous Peoples;

3.  Section 35 rights, with the support of section 25, create Aboriginal citizens that are not recognized internationally as Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations and the Government of Canada. This disqualifies Indigenous Peoples in Canada from international rights to self-determination, permanent sovereignty over lands and resources, and for Inherent rights outlined in the UNDRIP;

4.  Treaties rights under section 35 do not recognize Immemorial and international rights to permanent sovereignty over lands and resources. Both existing, and future, treaties and Land Claim Agreements recognized under section 35 extinguish Immemorial and international rights over land, resources, and peoples;

5. Crown-delegated jurisdictions replace Inherent Jurisdictions for Indigenous government, land and resource management, and other societal institutions for cultural, social, political, and economic development. This replacement occurs for pre-existing, modern, and future Indigenous societal institutions;

6. Crown-controlled funding replaces Inherent Jurisdiction-related revenue streams from Indigenous land and natural resources creating an environment that cannot sustain self-determination;

7.  Canada’s rule of law protects Crown rights and Crown-Delegated Jurisdictions while excluding Indigenous sovereignty, Immemorial rights, Indigenous law, and Inherent Jurisdiction. The Crown can violate Immemorial rights to cultural, social, and economic developments since they are not protected under the rule of law. The Crown has a veto over sovereign Indigenous decisions concerning Indigenous communities, lands, resources, and peoples;

8.  Crown engagement and consultation processes consult Crown-Delegated Jurisdictions and exclude the consultation of Indigenous community-based Immemorial rights-holders;

9.  The Crown’s duty to consult is part of a process that plans Indigenous land exploitation and allows for the infringement of Aboriginal land-based rights in the face of colonial land and resource development objectives. Meaningful consultation is a tool used to advance colonial interests;

10. The Crown can negotiate hard with Indigenous Peoples and has no duty to reach an agreement with them;

11. The whole-of-government approach fails to recognize Indigenous sovereignty and Inherent Jurisdiction. It is not nation-to-nation, Inuit-to-Crown, or government-to-government; and,

12. The distinctions-based approach of First Nation, Inuit, and Métis peoples replaces self-defined aggregates of peoples from pre-contact and modern Indigenous nations. These distinctions are not recognized by the United Nations to qualify as distinct peoples under international law. The distinctions-based approach erases the sovereignty and Inherent Jurisdictions of pre-existing, modern, and future Indigenous nations and Peoples in Canada.


The Government of Canada initiated self-determination discussion tables with Indigenous Peoples in July 2015.2 These discussions are purported to be community driven and able to respond to needs and interests of the three-group distinction of First Nation Inuit, and Métis.3 By summer 2018, a handful of cursory Memorandums of Understandings had been signed to facilitate non-binding discussions, most with primarily Métis organizations.4


After a review of the twelve facets, it is clear that the Crown is not offering an internal remedy for self-determination at its self-determination discussion tables. It is offering a less provocative form of colonization and assimilation under the guise of self-government and an alternate rights regime.


Sovereign Indigenous right to Self-Determination:


Regardless of the Government of Canada’s views, Indigenous Peoples in Canada are still sovereign peoples. They have an international right to self-determination. More importantly, they have an Immemorial right to self-determination through their pre-existing sovereignty.


The Government of Canada’s refusal to recognize Indigenous Peoples in Canada under international law does not in any way diminish from their right to permanent sovereignty over natural resources and self-determination. It does mean however, Indigenous Peoples should be more than skeptical when reviewing an offer of a new relationship presented to them at self-determination discussion tables or in land claim negotiations.



1. (2015) Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Volume 1, Part 1, Introduction. p. 3. http://caid.ca/TRCFinVol1Par12015.pdf

2. (2017) Munson, J., INAC Finding Success with New Treaty Negotiations. Ipolitics. November 8, 2017. Accessed 2018-05-04  https://ipolitics.ca/2017/11/08/inac-finding-success-with-new-treaty-negotiations

3. (2018) Exploring New Way of Working Together, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Website. Accessed 2018-04-30  https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1511969222951/1511969264945

4. (2017) Memorandum of Understanding on Advancing Reconciliation, Métis Nation of Alberta. http://caid.ca/MOUMetisAB2017.pdf

 


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Last Updated October 15, 2018