Our Inherent Rights

Prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America, Indigenous peoples were organized as sovereign nations. We had our own cultures, economies, governments and laws. We were generally in exclusive occupation of defined territories, over which we exercised governmental authority (jurisdiction). We also owned the lands and resources within our territories, and so had property rights, subject to responsibilities placed on us by the Creator to care for the land and share it with the plants and animals who also lived there. 


For thousands of years, we organized ourselves as sovereign nations, with what was essentially governmental jurisdiction over our lands, including property rights. Those rights — of governance and property — were trampled in the stampede of European settlement, colonization and commercial interests. But they were never lost or extinguished. 


The inherent right of self-government that we have today in Canadian law comes from the sovereignty we exercised prior to contact with Europeans. It is inherent because it existed before European colonization and the imposition of Euro-Canadian law. Aboriginal rights to lands and natural resources are also inherent because they pre-date European colonization. They are communal rights that come from occupation and use of the land by Indigenous peoples as sovereign nations.

A Brief History of Our Right to Self-Governance

Explore the unbroken history of First Nations right to self-governance, a right rooted in our occupation and our own jurisdiction over the land before contact. In recent years aboriginal and treaty rights and title have been addressed by Canadian courts and, for many First Nation citizens, the movement for self-governance is a way to reaffirm authority in relation to the land.