What are the pathways First Nations can take to get out from under Indian Act administration to exercising the Inherent Right of Self-Government?

After more than 35 years since Section 35 affirmed Aboriginal rights and title and 20 years of the federal government’s Inherent Right Policy, only a small proportion of First Nations have attained self-government.  In that time, a number of First Nations have taken a step-wise path towards self-determination by taking advantage of legislative work arounds to the Indian Act in respect of self-financing through taxation or land management.  Others have built some capacity for self-goverment through single jurisdictional agreements, or have built greater economic clout through own-source revenues.

Most, however, remain “stuck” in Indian Act administration and its poor outcomes. After more than a century of an imposed chief and band council governing structure for individual communities, almost all are far from re-building governance capacity at a “nation” level.

Canada is now at a special point in its history where government direction is aligning with the desires and vision of First Nation communities for self-government.  Yet significant challenges remain. The parties to a new “nation to nation” relationship may be increasingly aligned on the vision and clear on the starting point… but the question, “how best to get there?” remains largely unanswered.

The Transitional Governance Project is situated at the intersection of two factors – the reality that the legal basis for effective self-government has been achieved, while progress in towards self-government is impeded by institutions and practice shaped by decades of Indian Act administration. The approach is grounded in long-term development work by the Centre for First Nations Governance in First Nations across Canada. Over time, these communities have been requesting tools and strategies for i) better managing the requirements and constraints of Indian Act administration and ii) building the inherent right to self-government.

The Transitional Governance Project – a collaboration between the Centre, IPAC and Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration – will seek to address these needs as well as fill a critical gap in research and expertise. Working collaboratively with participating First Nations, the goal is to provide a versatile transitional governance model that can show what is possible, and demonstrate the steps to getting there.

The first major step in the Transitional Governance Project takes place October 3-5, 2017 in Ottawa at a two-and-a half day “think tank”. Supported by a SSHRC Connection Grant, it will engage leaders and practitioners from 4-6 First Nation governments (Council of the Haida Nation, Lil’wat Nation, Mi’gmawei Mawiomi, and others), with senior scholars, graduate students and select practitioners in a structured discussion of approaches to mastering and moving out from under the Indian Act and towards practical realization of their Inherent Right to self-government.

The purpose of the think tank is for participants to shape the design of and to identify more collaborators for (or solidify partnerships for) future applied research. First Nation participants have expressed a need to build an enduring research and practice partnership with scholars, students and public service partners. The think tank will lay the foundation for this future work.

The think tank is also designed to be complete in itself. It will facilitate the sharing of experiences and analyses and the creation of new networks of support for self-governing capacity across Canada. It will result in immediately-useable resources for participating First Nations and others. It is being video-recorded so that portions can be used in on-line courses as part of Carleton’s Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Policy and Administration, and made available more widely through IPAC and the Centre for First Nations Governance.  The findings will also be disseminated in reports and tools related to the identified major themes and issues.

For more information:

Professor Frances Abele, Carleton University:  FrancesAbele@Cunet.Carleton.Ca
Satsan (Herb George), Centre for First Nations Governance:  satsangeorge@gmail.com
Catherine MacQuarrie, Institute of Public Administration of Canada: cmacquarrie@ipac.ca