What we heard so far on the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights
Statements included in this report are not for attribution and are paraphrased statements based on transcripts and notes. While some statements may be listed as specific to one particular group, the views they expressed are often shared by many.
For too long, Indigenous peoples in Canada have had to go to court to prove their rights exist and fight to have them recognized and fully implemented. To truly renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples, the Government of Canada must make the recognition and implementation of rights the basis for all relations between Indigenous peoples and the federal government. This is why the Prime Minister announced on February 14, 2018, the Government of Canada's commitment to develop, in full partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, a Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework, which will include new legislation and policy. The contents of the framework will be determined through national engagement activities led by the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.
Working together for change: National engagement
Since the Prime Minister's statement, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada has held engagement sessions across the country with First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders and communities. We took additional efforts to ensure that the voices of women, youth and Elders were heard during this process. Historic treaty, modern treaty and self-government agreement holders have also played a key role in the engagement process. Provincial and territorial senior level officials and industry leaders were also engaged by Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. Written correspondence has been received from across Canada, and will contribute to the development of the Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework.
Canada will use summer 2018 as an opportunity to continue to engage and work collaboratively with First Nation, Inuit and Métis rights holders. Over the summer we will also share what we have heard from rights holders with provincial and territorial governments and key stakeholders. We have heard that First Nation, Inuit and Métis rights holders want and expect to be included in any legislative or policy development processes that are about them, and we will respect this request in the next phase of engagement.
This report is intended to provide a snapshot of the input we have received so far and support further discussions on what should be included in the framework. We want to share what we have heard so far and test whether we have understood the issues and recommendations presented to us by First Nation, Inuit and Métis rights holders. This information will invariably change as we continue to receive input from our Indigenous partners and co-develop a framework that represents the interests of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
There will be additional public documents that summarize input from other partners such as industry.
What we have heard so far
A diverse range of subjects were discussed in the 89 engagement sessions from coast to coast to coast between February and June 2018.
Engagement centered on the legislative and policy changes needed to reform the Government of Canada's current approach of denying rights, and transition to one based on the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights. It was made very clear that Canada needs to begin by recognizing the inherent and treaty rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada. We also heard from participants that any new legislation and policies should be grounded in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Principles Respecting the Government of Canada's Relationship with Indigenous Peoples, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation's Calls to Action, all of which recognize and affirm Indigenous rights and treaties.
Part A: Reconciliation through rights recognition and implementation
What we heard was that the three main purposes of the legal framework include:
- recognizing inherent and treaty rights
- facilitating self-determination
- keeping the Government of Canada accountable
Recognizing inherent and treaty rights
Throughout the engagement a number of themes emerged which could inform the development of a framework, including legislation to recognize and affirm Indigenous rights. We heard that for too long, the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples has been characterized by a denial of rights, and court case after court case, with Indigenous nations having to fight to prove the existence of their rights. We also heard that the recognition of rights must respect the differences between First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, as well as the diversity within these groups.
Canada heard about the need to make sure that any recognition of rights acknowledges the inherent nature of these rights. This means honouring inherent and treaty rights, including title, recognizing the inherent right of nations to govern themselves, and respecting the fact that Indigenous nations have existed since time immemorial. Respecting rights also means Canada needs to reject old thinking and practices, such as, the belief that Europeans discovered this land without anyone living and thriving here (the Doctrine of Terra Nullius and the Doctrine of Discovery).
Feedback also included a discussion on economic development and opportunities for Indigenous groups. Indigenous leaders and community members often cited a need for greater economic development opportunities. In particular, most expressed concern about the development of traditional territories without their consent, and without any opportunity to benefit from the resources being taken from the land.
What we heard is that Canada should begin by recognizing that Indigenous rights, including rights to land, have always existed. Implementation of these rights means changing Canadian government's laws and practices, as well as those of other levels of government.
"We still have no rights to our land unless we prove them. We want to see you denounce the Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullius."
"We need the recognition legislation in place. It is urgent. It has to be broad in scope. It has to be crafted in a way to give direction to all of the arms of your government, to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."
"Our treaty is the foundation of our rights, and they need to be respected and followed. As Treaty people we have the right of Free, Prior and Informed Consent."
"Treaties are sacred, not simply contracts."
"Departments have to understand what the final agreements lay out, and they need to understand self-governing nations."
"The biggest thing for us is recognition of the Métis Nation. Until we are recognized by other levels of government as a Nation; that is the biggest stumbling block for us."
"We are writing our vows between Canada and the Métis and they will appear outlined in the Recognition legislation. At the end of the day we have a relationship, but the legislation will help us propel forward."
"We are beyond wanting your recognition of our rights. We want our treaty implemented and our language respected."
Reconstituting and rebuilding nations was a dominant theme across all sessions. First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders and community members said they need an approach to develop or rebuild their own systems of governance based on their own values, laws and traditions. They want a new approach that will allow them to define their nations themselves, determine their own citizenship within their nations, and have control over areas such as health, education, and economic development.
First Nations, Inuit, and Metis youth and First Nations women, in particular, noted the need to decolonize the male-dominated governance structures that have been imposed on their communities through the Indian Act. However, as one participant said, "It is more about the process of deprogramming, rather than decolonizing". As we moved forward in the engagement, an enhanced role of women in Indigenous governance structures was considered a possible barometer of decolonization and a healthy government.
While significant new investments have been made, Indigenous leaders expressed the view that funding and resources are insufficient to run their governments. Canada heard that the existing Crown-Indigenous fiscal relationship does not support the basic needs, let alone the aims and goals of Indigenous communities. Many called for a new fiscal relationship that respects Indigenous nations as owners of their lands, resources, and waters, where they have a right to economically benefit from those lands, resources, and waters. There were frequent calls for increased resource revenue sharing, and control over their lands and resources.
"We need to end the chief and council systems on reserves. We are ready to begin the hard work to reconstitute Indigenous nations. We still have our constitutions; they are in our ceremonies and oral histories. There will be a tremendous amount of work to implement our legal traditions and governance systems."
"We can't talk about a civil law, a common law, and an Indigenous law tradition. We have to actually talk about Indigenous legal traditions plural. And so take that and even the Cree (Nēhiyaw) talk about multiple legal 'traditions'. Because we are not just one people."
"Colonialism did not impact men and women in the same way, decolonization should take that into account. In most First Nations societies, women ran the communities and selected leaders. It was a colonial concept of a man owning a woman that hit us where it hurt. The concept absolutely demolished our governance in many cases."
"Before treaty, we all had a body of knowledge. At the signing of treaty we began to understand your system, but the body of knowledge is not the same. The work of treaty is to build the bridge between our two systems."
"The Natural Resource Transfer Act has to be eliminated. When that policy was implemented in the 1930s, it was done without any Indigenous people at the table."
"Recognizing Indigenous rights, as we develop a relationship with government the fear of what it means disappears. The fear disappeared with Quebec too, as we were able to communicate with them. … You are in the right direction when wanting to promote self-government."
"The Métis Settlements remain the only legislated land base in Canada. We have a broad mandate encompassing land, governance and jurisdiction. We have done with little to no recognition of the federal government. It is our right to be at the table when the funding allocation models and formulas are being designed. There should be funding that goes directly to Métis Settlements."
"We usually hear people say that we are the Métis or that we are Métis people, but we are a Nation."
"The engagement has focused on talking about recognition legislation, how long will it take the government to recognize the Métis have governments? … I would recommend that we need legislation for Métis governments, not pan-Indigenous."
"Women need to be active in policy changes and participate in meetings and discussions related to the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Women tend to take a more holistic approach and should be participating in high-level meetings and meetings at the regional level."
Keeping the Government of Canada accountable
Holding the Government of Canada accountable in all areas concerning the implementation of Indigenous rights was raised in many engagement sessions. Recurring comments by participants called on Canada to develop mechanisms to oversee how well the federal government fulfills its obligations, which could include an independent body to hold the federal government to account for its action, or inaction. Others also asked Canada to consider developing dispute resolution mechanisms over land issues and treaty implementation. Suggestions ranged from creating a treaty commissioner within the auditor general's office to others suggesting an oversight body reporting to parliament. Also, there were suggestions to create a more independent body that provides resources to help mediate and resolve disputes.
Concerns were also raised about the Government of Canada's process to develop the new framework and legislation. Many groups indicated an interest in being directly involved in the development of the framework, including the drafting instructions for the legislation. There were also concerns with the timeline for the development of the framework being too rushed, as well as the need for comprehensive and meaningful engagement. Others expressed the view that Canada should work to pass the legislation as soon as possible.
"We need to consider new dispute resolution approaches to address rights related issues like overlapping territory issues. Overlaps prevent communities from moving forward."
"Perhaps the government should establish a separate secretariat. A third body, where Indigenous Nations can go to get information, basic legal advice when they decide to prove title, so they are organized and they have made the proper decisions when they form their nation."
"There is a need to create an office of an independent ombudsman to whom Indigenous governments and persons can take their concerns of fairness of treatment by federal employees in accordance with an established process."
"We need a modern treaty review commission situated in the auditor general's office that reports to cabinet. In terms of recognition of rights there needs to be parameters around disputes."
"Our process needs to be specific to the Métis. We have lands in this province that are ours and taken from us."
"I want to start off with thanking you for your acknowledgement that government has been a contributor to denying of rights. Think that is a polite way of putting it… Implementation of the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement has been uneven. We don't have plans in place about how the parties are going to work towards implementing these provisions."
Part B: Reconciliation and other matters
Throughout the engagement, many Indigenous leaders, youth, women and Elders raised the crucial need for a culture change in Canadian institutions and policies to ensure that Indigenous rights are respected, affirmed, and implemented. This culture change is needed among Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada and across the Government of Canada as a whole. In addition, while the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was viewed as a helpful guide, many noted circumstances have changed since it was released twenty-one years ago. For example, the proportion of Indigenous peoples in urban centres has grown, and many of the issues that were identified by the commission still remain, such as lower levels of education, higher unemployment, and lack of cultural identity. Before the commission began its work, little attention had been given to identifying and meeting the needs of urban Indigenous people. The commission found that many Indigenous people lost their rights when they moved to cities, and it is necessary to ensure that those rights continue to be recognized and affirmed.
Many also commented on the urgent need to rebuild Indigenous languages. This section will provide an overview of themes raised in engagement sessions related to languages and cultures, urban Indigenous issues, public education, and finally, the transformation of the old department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Processes and approaches to address these areas would complement and contribute to the success of the implementation of the Framework.
Language and culture
Through discussions on governance, Indigenous leaders and community members in various regions noted the importance of strong Indigenous languages and cultures. Strong languages and cultures are deemed crucial for strong Indigenous identity and nations, and are essential to pass on cultural practices and traditions. The issue of inadequate funding for languages was consistently raised.
"We need our languages back. We are in a crisis situation with our languages."
"A nation should be based on languages. We have about 24 across the country… you can't dispute our languages. We need to go back to referring to ourselves as villages within tribes."
"As Inuit, we expected to have more of a voice. In our government, we thought we'd be speaking more Inuktitut, we'd hold more of our traditions and people would understand more about the process of our governments. And as Inuit, some of us in our own land, we can't speak Inuktitut, rather English or French. Inuit are not being served in their language and they have to look for someone to help them with the language for the services that they require."
"Inuit have been working on language for many years. Our people need to understand where they are at and where they have come from. People move into the communities from living on the land… how they are being addressed in the hospitals; they are always served in English and French. Language preservation needs to take place at all levels of government. Language policy is needed for our language."
"Language is so important to maintain culture; it is the core."
In all engagement sessions across the country Indigenous leaders and community representatives raised the urgent need to address the day-to-day social and economic issues impacting the lives of their citizens. Even though the focus of discussion was on the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights, the social issues were top of mind for a majority of the participants. This message was particularly a dominant one in sessions with youth, women and Elders. Many participants mentioned that it is difficult for Indigenous people to have the capacity to participate in complex discussions on Indigenous rights, when they are preoccupied with the social issues in front of them. It was also stressed that the perspectives of the LGBTQ2S community, including Two- Spirit people, should be included in the discussion on Indigenous rights.
"Do we fight for our rights and title or do we feed our people? We don't have the resources to do both."
"As young people, we understand that there are certain things that need to be done before we can talk about the rebuilding of relationships, because we're still broken. A lot of our people are still healing, and there needs to be mechanisms in place that allow us to get on that same playing field, to actually negotiate properly with the governments within Canada."
"Access to services for Inuit people who are out of the North are very poor. There is no one place for Inuit in the South to access health and education."
"Language and education are both very important to us. But if we can't feed our families that will be my priority."
"We would like to move forward not backward. Our children today are our future. We don't want to fail them and we know what we need to do. We must prevent children from going into care and have a culturally appropriate approach to child welfare. There are many areas of need for child welfare, and a lot of it has to do with funding."
Urban Indigenous issues
Urban Indigenous issues were also a common theme among many of the engagement sessions, as there is a significant proportion of Indigenous people living in urban centres who are often marginalized. Many participants spoke of the need for Indigenous people to maintain their rights if they leave their communities for urban centres, and to have adequate resources in place to represent their interests. It was also mentioned that youth need the opportunity to return to their communities and to learn their culture on the land.
"The urban landscape has changed dramatically since the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and it should be looked at again; we need to recognize the importance of urban councils and possibly develop an urban governance structure."
"It is important to bring the knowledge keepers to ensure the urban individuals have the spiritual connection."
"Inuit organizations are organizing across the country. We would encourage that you connect with those organizations. There is a lot of momentum there. As an urban Inuit, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami has not been supportive of Inuit outside the Arctic. Neither have the 4 governments. Roughly 30% of our population now lives outside the Arctic. The federal government is not going through local organizations for delivery, but rather the national organizations, and is not using local statistics, but national statistics."
"Everything gets woven into together in cities and we want to promote a distinct Métis culture."
Coast to coast to coast, Canada heard consistent messages that it will take all Canadians to truly advance reconciliation. Many said that racism persists and that Indigenous relations with the Crown including early treaty making had not been well-taught in schools. A public information and education element was strongly suggested as part of a framework on the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights.
"Schools need to talk more about our treaties and celebrate our leaders, not only leaders from other countries."
"It is important for Canada and for the non-Indigenous people of Canada to know about treaty. There is an education component here; it shouldn't be only Indigenous people educating."
"[Federal] employees don't seem to understand Inuit and Inuit culture. They need to be more educated in our ways. Secondly, there are many people who are misunderstanding our agreement. We need to better understand our own rights. There are a lot of boards and other agencies where there are more men than women. We need to encourage more women to be on boards."
"It is the people and the public that need to embrace the path that the Government of Canada is going down with Indigenous people. Not only do we need to educate about our own framework in our own communities… but also education needs to be done at other levels of government. There are a great many non-Indigenous people that need to be educated… why this process will work better than the existing process. Provincial support will be crucial to implement a new and better way."
Indigenous groups also provided feedback on the transformation of the old department of Indian and Northern Affairs with the creation of two new departments:
- Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada
- Indigenous Services Canada
Some participants said the government's responsibilities were not clear enough and it was difficult knowing where to go for certain services. A recurring theme across the country was the lack of Indigenous representation in the public service, and the need for more Indigenous people in positions of influence. Participants also stressed the importance of having public servants that are educated on Indigenous culture, as well as being able to conduct government business in Indigenous languages.
"We often have difficulty finding the responsibilities of different departments."
"It's good to see the gender-based analysis consultation going on. That gender-based analysis is going to be important throughout all departments beyond Status of Women. And we hope that carries on, but we need to be consulted, we need to be a part of that."
"We have fears that changes to the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch will affect health services delivery."
"Your employees don't seem to understand Inuit and Inuit culture. They need to be more educated in our ways."
"In the framework you need to have a section on educating the public, provinces and other Indigenous groups on who we are."
Part C: Path forward
This report is meant to a snapshot of the input we have received so far. We want to share what we have heard so far, and test whether we have understood the issues and recommendations presented to us by First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples.
A discussion paper that outlines the new tools our government is considering to ensure the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights is the basis for all relations between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples will also be available.
We continue to seek feedback and input. We would welcome your input and encourage you to send your feedback by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter addressed to:
Policy Development and Coordination Branch
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
10 rue Wellington, 8th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H4