The Canadian Constitution and the Supreme Court of Canada have affirmed the right of First Nations to govern themselves, yet the lives of status Indians and the administration of First Nations are still controlled by the Indian Act, much as they have been for over 150 years. Negotiating a transition from the Act to self-governance agreements is difficult when existing governance structures (band councils) and policy frameworks (education, social services, land rights, economic development) are infused with the paternalism of the Act’s colonial intent. As a result, establishing a credible, culturally appropriate governance system is a pre-condition for First Nations to move forward in building healthy and prosperous communities. For example, the Nisga’a in BC, having negotiated a landmark self-governance agreement, now have the authority to make decisions affecting their citizens, communities and territories, resulting in innovative approaches to logging, fisheries, housing and child and family services.
The Centre for First Nations Governance (CFNG) supports communities in the transition from the Indian Actto self-governance, using culturally informed procedures and protocols to ensure community participation and consent. This is reconciliation in practice: it redistributes power between First Nations and Canada, using a collaborative framework to negotiate relationships based on mutual respect.
Governance transition involves change at multiple levels: citizen engagement, institutional change and application principles established in the Canadian constitution to restructure relations with the federal government. In order to achieve this, the CFNG supports communities through three phases:
- re-engaging citizens in nation re-building by educating community members on the inherent right to self-governance and activating the community’s collective memory to recall pre-colonial governance
- re-building effective and efficient governments in First Nations currently regulated by the Indian Act
- transitioning from the Indian Act to self-governing nations under Section 35 of the Constitution.
With a grant from the Foundation, CFNG will further develop its road map to First Nations self-government so that communities can begin work on their own; provide more intensive support to communities that request it; and complete transitional governance in the Lil’wat First Nation in BC and Listuguj First Nation in Quebec.