First Nations have an inherent right to self-determination; the rights of aboriginal peoples of Canada are protected by s.35 of the Canadian Constitution. On November 12, 2010 the Government of Canada finally signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which sets out international standards that are fundamental to ensuring the survival of our Nations and peoples and Indigenous Nations and peoples around the world. With this endorsement the real work begins, we now have to translate these hard fought-for rights into practical benefits on the ground within our communities. We must continue to work to ensure these principles are reflected in Canadian law and policy as we re-build our Nations within Canada. We must collectively ensure that our communities have the resources and the tools they need so that they can prosper, with our peoples enjoying an improved standard of living with practicing and thriving cultures.
Across Canada our Nations are beginning to implement our inherent right of self-determination and are moving away from governance under the Indian Act. Strong and appropriate governance is necessary if our Nations are to reach their full potential and maximize our opportunities. This is a prerequisite for sustainable and long-term economic development. A key to success for both Canadian and US tribes has been effective self-determination. However, many of our Nations’ citizens are afraid of ‘self-government’ or do not support it. This paradox needs to be understood and overcome if opportunities are to be realized.
In order to re-establish appropriate institutions of governance, every Nation, as part of its own critical path, requires ‘an exit strategy’ for getting out from under Canada’s control and a plan to rebuild their own governance structures from the community up. This is challenging work and requires leadership and the dedication of resources and time.
The BCAFN has a role to play to help empower, support and connect our Nations as each develops and executes their own ‘exit strategy’ from colonial governance structures to implementing appropriate governance structures today. In many cases, in order to move forward some degree of negotiations with the Crown is necessary and navigating the bureaucracy and the hurdles put in a Nation’s way can be a challenge. While the BCAFN should never negotiate a Nation’s governance arrangements, the BCAFN can help to ensure the path is clear for our Nations to make their own arrangements.
When rebuilding appropriate and strong governance, regardless of the process, our Nations must be free to consider decision-making systems that reflect our unique cultures and traditions. Jurisdictional arrangements will reflect our multiple structures of governance.
Where Nations have hereditary or other traditional forms of governance, the Crown must recognize these systems and not stand in the way of their operation. While sometimes our traditional systems are a challenge for Canada and BC, this is a challenge that must be overcome if our self-determination is going to be meaningful and legitimate.