First Nations were self governing long before
Europeans arrived in Canada. In 1876, The Indian Act came
into effect, dismantling traditional governance systems and
imposing regulations on aboriginal peoples' lives. Today,
the federal government recognizes that aboriginal people have
an inherent, constitutionally-protected
right to self governmenta right to manage their
First Nations have long demanded the right to
govern themselves according to their own traditionsto
be free of the Indian Act. A poignant example of this struggle
is the plight of the Nisga'a Nation. As far back as 1887 Nisga'a
and Tsimshian chiefs travelled to Victoria to press for treaties
and self government. It would take more than a century before
the Nisga'a Treaty was signed in 2000.
The government of Canada recognizes that the
Indian Act system needs to change. Under the BC treaty process,
self-government arrangements will be designed, established
and administered by aboriginal peoples. Through self government,
First Nations can again become self determining and self sufficient.
There is no template for self-government;
each First Nation establishes their own unique self-government
arrangement. Self-government provisions may include:
||Health care and
For example, the Nisga'a Lisims government
has four directorships: Lands and Resources, Fisheries and
Wildlife, Finance, and Programs and Servicesincluding
child and family, and justice services.
The new governing structure will have
a constitution and law-making authority over treaty land and
provision of public services. Regardless of who has jurisdiction
over any particular service after the treaty, the parties
must agree on arrangements for its delivery.
Concerns have been raised that self government will lead to:
Raced-based rights that no other Canadians will have;
||Fifty or 60 homelands,
each with its own laws;
system based on race; and
people living on settlement land paying property taxes
and not able to participate democratically in public decisions
that affect them.
Provisions for self government will vary from
treaty to treaty, guided by these principles:
Self government will be exercised within the existing
Canadian Constitution. Aboriginal peoples will continue
to be citizens of Canada and the province or territory
where they live, but they may exercise varying degrees
of jurisdiction and/or authority.
Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Criminal Code of
Canada will apply fully to aboriginal governments as it
does to all other governments in Canada.
will have the ability to make laws pertaining to treaty
land and the provision of public service for their people,
including health care, education and social services.
||Some local laws
like zoning and transportation will apply to all residents
on treaty lands, but the majority of treaty laws will
apply only to treaty citizens. Federal, provincial, territorial
and aboriginal laws must work in harmony.
will be required to consult with local residents on decisions
that directly affect them (for example, health, school
and police boards).
Constitutionally-protected vs. Municipal style Government
Under the BC treaty process, each First Nation negotiates agreed implementation of a self government arrangement to meet their unique social, cultural, political and economic needs.
The BC Claims Task Force, established in 1991 to make recommendations for a made-in-BC treaty process, envisioned that self-government arrangements negotiated through the BC treaty process would have constitutional protection. Constitutionally-protected self government, like the Nisga'a Treaty, is actually passed as Canadian law, and cannot be changed unless all three parties-Canada, BC and the First Nation-agree. Constitutional protection ensures that self-governing powers established by the treaty cannot be taken away.
In a municipal-style of self government, governance powers are delegated by an act of Parliament and an act of the BC Legislature and have no constitutional protection. The Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act is an example of a municipal-style self-government agreement.
Treaties will replace Indian Act-imposed
band governments with a government authority for all members
of a nation.Each treaty will define who can be enrolled under
the agreement. Most First Nations will have broader eligibility
criteria than current status and non-status designations under
the Indian Act. Eligibility criteria will likely require that
an individual be of aboriginal ancestry or accepted as a member
of the aboriginal community.
Self-government arrangements strive to provide
better opportunities for aboriginal people living within their
traditional territory, while not excluding those aboriginal
people who choose to live elsewhere. For example, several
First Nations living in urban areas have been enrolled as
Nisga'a citizens, and three urban locals have been established.