“Nation-to-nation”: What do Parties think it means?

Over the course of this (long) election campaign, the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party of Canada have both invoked the language of international co-operation with Indigenous peoples in their platforms. The Conservative Party, have not.

“We will immediately re-engage in a renewed, respectful and inclusive nation-to-nation process,” the Liberal website reads.

“We feel it is time for a new era and a new federal government that embraces a true Nation-to-Nation relationship,” the NDP announced.

This rhetoric demonstrates that these two parties have paid attention to the conversations that have been ever more present in the era of Idle No More. And while rhetorical flourishes are to be expected on the campaign trail, the potential implementation of such policies lead me to believe that these are either hollow promises, or that the Parties simply don’t know what they’re saying.

Certain actions lead me to lean toward the latter.

afn-1 tom-mulcair-ndp-leader-federal-election-2015

During the Munk Debate on Foreign Policy on 28 September 2015, Justin Trudeau eulogized his late father, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, in response to Tom Mulcair’s critique of P.E. Trudeau’s decision to invoke the War Measures Act, likening a past Liberal policy to the party’s recent support of Bill C-5, the Conservative Government’s anti-terrorism legislation. “Let me say very clearly, I’m incredibly proud to be Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s son. And I’m incredibly lucky to be raised with those Liberal values,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau and Jean Chrétien (who has been trotted out by the Liberals during this campaign), were the architects of the 1969 White Paper, or Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy. The White Paper was famously designed to terminate Indigenous title and rights as Indigenous peoples. It proposed that Indigenous National territories be reduced to real estate, bought and sold on the market. This stands in stark contrast to a relationship between nations.

The White Paper was, as Arthur Manuel describes it, the “opening shot” in the modern battle for Indigenous rights in Canada, and it of course sparked immense backlash. The Paper failed, but it has lived on in Canadian Indian Policy (Liberal and Conservative): title extinguishment, treaty termination, and ending the existence of sovereign peoples. (See Manuel’s 2015 book Unsettling Canada) In this tradition, the CPC recently promised to introduce on-reserve private property ownership, should they be re-elected.

How can the Liberal Party reconcile its internationalist promises while parading around figures such as Chrétien and Trudeau?

The LPC has officially renounced the Policy, and resolves that it will “strive for meaningful consultation when considering legislation and policy that impact the rights of Indigenous peoples.”

Courts have repeatedly decided that consultation is insufficient. A notable example is Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia 2014 SCC 44, wherein the SCC reasoned that “the right to control the land conferred by Aboriginal title means that governments and others seeking to use the land must obtain the consent of the Aboriginal title holders.”

Along with the NDP, the LPC have committed to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We will […] enact the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” read the LPC website.

“NDP have committed to […] ensure that all government decisions respect […] the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples,” reads a statement from the NDP.

The 2007 UNDRIP was an important achievement. It ensures the “right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development. The Declaration explicitly encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between States and indigenous peoples.” (UNOHCHR website)

Article 3 reads, “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

And Article 4 reads, “Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”

Self-determination. Autonomy. 

Article 8.2 reads,

States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:

(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;

(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;

(c) Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;

(d)  Any form of forced assimilation or integration;

(e)  Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.

Prevention and redress for B, if we follow that to it’s logical conclusion, would be revolutionary. And I don’t think the LPC or NDP are proposing redress for all lands, territories, and resources that Indigenous peoples have been dispossessed of. This is but one example of an election promise that, and correct me if I’m wrong, the parties in question do not intend to implement. And the LPC have said that they plan to implement the UNDRIP – not selected articles or “principles.”

I’ve focused on the LPC, not because I believe that the NDP is offering a wholly divergent path, but because of the particularly cavernous inconsistencies within Liberal rhetoric.

There appear to be two explanations for the in the internationalist rhetoric of the NDP and LPC with respect to Indigenous peoples.

Firstly, if the rhetoric is meant to court the “Indigenous Vote”, achieving this outcome will depend upon Indigenous voters who either do not recall the Trudeau and Chrétien governments and have no knowledge of Canadian and International law, or  prioritize other issues (education, poverty aleviation) over  sovereignty. And we know that many who do prioritize sovereignty, chose to abstain from voting in Canadian elections altogether. In the second case, the use of nation-to-nation rhetoric would be superfluous.

Second, the alternative explanation, is that the rhetoric is not mean to court the “Indigenous Vote”. I suspect that this language is meant to appeal to Canadians, who have to varying magnitudes learned over the past few years about the broken relationship through events, public figures, and pop culture: Idle No More, MMIW, John Ralston Saul’s The Comeback book tour, The Orenda winning Canada Reads, Wab Kinew appearing frequently on CBC radio, Tanya Tagaq and Buffy Sainte Marie winning Polaris prizes, A Tribe Called Red’s successes, the findings of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Ashley Callingbull’s activism, etc. If Canadian voters are seeking solutions to a vague and enduring “Indian problem”, the Liberal rhetoric offers RealChange™ without fundamentally unsettling the relationship.

For further sources on the three leading parties’ stated promises with respect to Canada-Indigenous relations, see below.

Sources for photos one and two.


“A re-elected Conservative government will enact legislation that allows this specific band to move forward in this way,” said the platform document. “If other First Nation bands also choose to pursue this option on a voluntary, opt-in basis, we’ll proceed with similar legislation for them.”

The chief of the Whispering Pines-Clinton Indian Band is quoted in the platform document saying the proposed legislation is “First Nations-led.” Chief Michael LeBourdais says his First Nation created the proposed property ownership legislation, according to the document.

“We want what other Canadians have: title we can leave to our future generations,” said LeBourdais, according to the document.” http://aptn.ca/news/2015/10/09/re-elected-harper-government-would-introduce-on-reserve-private-property-ownership-on-band-by-band-basis/



“We will immediately re-engage in a renewed, respectful and inclusive nation-to-nation process with Indigenous Peoples to advance progress on the issues prioritized by First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities – issues like housing, infrastructure, health and mental health care, community safety and policing, child welfare, and education.

And we will ensure that the Kelowna Accord – and the spirit of reconciliation that drove it – is embraced, and its objectives implemented in a manner that meets today’s challenges. We will make up for 10 long, lost years. ” http://www.liberal.ca/realchange/a-new-nation-to-nation-process-to-address-critical-issues/

“We will support the work of reconciliation and continue the necessary process of truth telling and healing, we will work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples to enact the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” http://www.liberal.ca/realchange/truth-and-reconciliation/

“As a matter of national priority, we will develop a Federal Reconciliation Framework, created in full partnership with Indigenous Peoples.

Reconciliation starts with recognizing and respecting Aboriginal title and rights, including treaty rights. A Liberal government will do just that. Not only in accordance with Constitutional obligations, but also with those enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples -something the current government has steadfastly refused to do.

To this end, we will conduct a full review of the legislation unilaterally imposed on Indigenous Peoples by the Harper government, through the lens of section 35 of the Constitution. Where measures are found to be in conflict with Aboriginal rights, where they are inconsistent with the principles of good governance, or where they simply make no public policy sense, we will rescind them.

This Reconciliation Framework will also include mechanisms to resolve grievances associated with existing historical treaties and modern land-claims agreements. The current process simply does not work. We will work with First Nations to re-design how Canada negotiates and fully implements modern treaties.

In some cases, the work toward reconciliation is already underway, but efforts are hindered by narrow federal mandates and lack of action. We will work with First Nations to achieve fair and just resolutions. That includes addressing the issue of governance. The Reconciliation Framework will include mechanisms to advance and strengthen self-government.” http://www.liberal.ca/realchange/renewed-relationship/

“The Liberals have also promised to implement all 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, immediately call a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and lift the two-per-cent funding cap on funding for First Nations programming.” http://www.thestar.com/news/federal-election/2015/09/01/what-the-parties-are-promising-on-aboriginal-issues.html

“Canada must complete the unfinished work of Confederation by establishing a renewed Nation-to-Nation relationship with the Métis Nation, based on trust, respect and cooperation for mutual benefit. A Liberal government will work in partnership with the Métis Nation, on a Nation-to-Nation basis, to further Métis self-government.” http://www.metisnation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Newsletter-October-2015.pdf


The package of commitments outlined by Mulcair was anchored by a promise to create a cabinet-level committee chaired by Mulcair, with the intention that all government decisions “respect” treaty rights and the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the current Conservative government has not signed. “I truly believe it is time for a new era based on a nation to nation relationship,” Mulcair said before beginning his speech, which was delayed briefly because he met in private with community elders before the event began.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ndp-indigenous-health-education-1.3260438

Bill C-641 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act May 6 2015 (Failed) https://openparliament.ca/bills/41-2/C-641/

“Thomas Mulcair has committed to creating a cabinet-level committee, chaired by the prime minister, to ensure an NDP government would not do anything without respecting treaty rights, inherent rights and Canada’s international obligations to its First Peoples. An NDP source said the party plans to release more details of its Aboriginal platform later on the campaign and that will include investments in education and infrastructure. The NDP has also promised to call a national public inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women within 100 days of forming government.” http://www.thestar.com/news/federal-election/2015/09/01/what-the-parties-are-promising-on-aboriginal-issues.html

“Yes. Tom Mulcair and Canada’s New Democrats recognize the right of the Métis people to self- government and have a deep commitment to developing Canada’s Nation-to-Nation relationship with the Métis Nation. This will remain a constant priority for an NDP Government.

We feel it is time for a new era and a new federal government that embraces a true Nation-to-Nation relationship, built on respect and committed to making meaningful progress for Métis citizens. The NDP has a long history of fighting for the rights of Indigenous peoples, including Métis peoples, most notably illustrated by the insistence of the NDP and Ed Broadbent that Aboriginal Treaty Rights be enshrined in the Canadian Constitution.

Tom Mulcair and Canada’s New Democrats believe that the current and previous federal governments have spent far too much time and energy fighting Indigenous peoples in court rather than seeking to build a respectful and meaningful partnership. If elected to form the next federal government we will work with the Métis peoples to support and further establish their institutions and rights.” “Yes. Tom Mulcair and the NDP have committed to establishing a cabinet-level committee chaired by the Prime Minister himself—to ensure that all government decisions respect treaty rights, inherent rights and Canada’s international obligations, starting with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. Canada’ New Democrats see this not just as the responsibility of one department but the duty of the entire Government of Canada.” http://www.metisnation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Newsletter-October-2015.pdf


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