Federal principles pledge to end legacy of colonization

Eric Plummer, July 17, 2017

This July the Government of Canada announced 10 principles to guide the country's relationship with its Indigenous peoples. (Wikimedia Commons/Andrijko Z. photo)

Ottawa — 

Principles recently released by the Department of Justice are raising the standard for cooperation between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples - at a time when this partnership is destined to be challenged by developments on the West Coast.

The federal government announced the 10 principles this month, outlining the “transformative change” necessary for Canada to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Based on a respectful relationship that adheres to rights and cooperation, the 10 principles give aboriginal peoples a special relationship with the Crown that follows Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act (1982).

“We will continue the process of de-colonization and hasten the end of its legacy wherever it remains in our laws and policies,” stated the Department of Justice with the announcement of the principles. “These principles are a starting point to support efforts to end the denial of Indigenous rights that led to disempowerment and assimilationist policies and practices.”

The principles have been supported by organizations representing British Columbia’s Indigenous groups, including the First Nations Summit, which speaks on behalf of Nations involved in treaty negotiations, and the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

“These principles will keep Canada’s Indigenous at the forefront of the decision-making process and will guide the review of laws and policies at the federal level,” read a press statement from the Tribal Council on Monday. “More importantly, it will support revolutionary change of the individual rights and respect of all Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

While the NTC statement optimistically speaks of “the renewed relationship between the federal government and our Indigenous peoples,” upcoming developments are destined to test how well Ottawa can put the 10 principles into action. On the west coast of Vancouver Island the Nuchatlaht First Nation has filed a claim seeking aboriginal title over its territory, while the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline is planned to increase oil tanker traffic along the coast from five to 34 that would leave Burnaby’s Westridge Marine Terminal each month. While the development has been opposed by various Indigenous groups, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argues that the Trans Mountain expansion is in the best interest of all Canadians.

Amid such contentious issues, the Government of Canada’s 10 principles speak of “meaningful engagement with Indigenous peoples” that aims to secure their consent regarding territories and resources. The federal stipulations also state that reconciliation is a fundamental purpose of the Constitution Act, and that fulfilling this entails “a mutually supportive climate for economic partnership and resource development.”  

These are the 10 principles to guide the Government of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples:

  1. 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.
  2. Reconciliation is a fundamental purpose of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  3. The honour of the Crown guides the conduct of the Crown in all of its dealings with Indigenous peoples.
  4. Indigenous self-government is part of Canada’s evolving system of cooperative federalism and distinct orders of government.
  5. Treaties, agreements, and other constructive arrangements between Indigenous peoples and the Crown have been and are intended to be acts of reconciliation based on mutual recognition and respect.
  6. Meaningful engagement with Indigenous peoples aims to secure their free, prior, and informed consent when Canada proposes to take actions which impact them and their rights on their lands, territories, and resources.
  7. Respecting and implementing rights is essential and that any infringement of section 35 rights must by law meet a high threshold of justification which includes Indigenous perspectives and satisfies the Crown’s fiduciary obligations.
  8. Reconciliation and self-government require a renewed fiscal relationship, developed in collaboration with Indigenous nations, that promotes a mutually supportive climate for economic partnership and resource development.
  9. Reconciliation is an ongoing process that occurs in the context of evolving Indigenous-Crown relationships.
  10. A distinctions-based approach is needed to ensure that the unique rights, interests and circumstances of the First Nations, the Métis Nation and Inuit are acknowledged,  affirmed, and implemented.