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Issues in Canada
The push for sovereign powers within a united Canada
For many aboriginal Canadians, the right to self-government is the principle solution
to most of the issues faced by aboriginal peoples. The capacity to take control of their
own people and solve their own problems is not only liberating, but also prudent. While
many Canadians balk at the distant policy makers in Ottawa, centralized administration
borders on absurd when experienced on the reserves.
Many counter that it is not possible to have two levels of citizenship in a unified
country; in effect, that citizenship is an exclusive relationship with the state. But,
both the European Union and devolution in the United Kingdom (i.e. Scotland has its
own Parliament, and Wales has a new legislative Assembly) are examples of new non-exclusive
political formations. But, in an already federalized state such as Canada, it is important
to consider how many authority levels are possible before Canada itself becomes meaningless.
Modern Aboriginal Governance: A Brief History
- 1951: Revisions to the Indian Act signalled a tempered willingness
to allow native bands more control over their affairs. Consultation frameworks were
established and Band spending powers were expanded. However, it was not until 1958
that any band was allowed to entirely control their funds. Today, native bands control
over 80% of the government’s budget for Indian and Inuit Affairs.
- 1960: Aboriginal Canadians were allowed to vote in federal elections
without losing their status under the Indian Act.
- 1968: Quebec was the last province to grant provincial voting
power to aboriginal people.
- 1969: A government White Paper proposed the repeal of the Indian
Act, removing the distinction between status and non-status Indians. This move sparked
so much controversy that it was dropped in 1971. The Indian Act, the Constitution,
and various treaties determine the legal status of Aboriginal individuals.
- Land claims settlement has become a new priority for federal and provincial governments.
The James Bay Agreement set the precedent for land claims, and the Cree-Naskapi Act
of Quebec, in 1984, became Canada’s first legislation for Aboriginal self-government.
- The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement created the territory of Nunavut in 1999. Nunavut
comprises one-fifth of Canada’s land area and replaces Inuit aboriginal titles with
a number of self-governing powers. For more, see mapleleafweb.com’s Nunavut:
The Story of Canada’s Inuit People.
- Areas of Contention: There are many areas of contention with regard
to land claims settlements. The Oka standoff in 1990, to stop the development of a
golf course on ancestral burial grounds is a high profile example, as is the decades
long Lubicon land dispute in northern Alberta (a contest over natural resource extraction
on the ancestral land of the Lubicon Cree).
There is uncertainty about how to negotiate many of the land claims agreements. Some
leaders argue that they should be negotiated with band chiefs from coast to coast, working
in unison. Others take a regional approach, such as the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs,
working at a provincial level.
The goals of self-determination and renewal of communal identity are challenging ones
for Aboriginal peoples and for Canada. But redressing a history of oppression, cultural
domination, and impoverishment has become one of the most pressing issues in contemporary