Treaties mark legitimacy of First Nation jurisdiction
As Canada continues to be shaped by the need to expand its economic footprint in the global economy, First Nation jurisdiction is becoming a very real and deciding component of this expansion.
The distinguished MacDonald-Laurier Institute recently released a public policy paper called: “Sharing The Wealth; How resource revenue agreements can honour treaties, improve communities, and facilitate Canadian development,” authored by Ken S. Coates. The paper provides a great starting point for a national dialogue on benefits that derive from treaties. The document is a strong signal and recognition that First Nations need to be brought into the ‘fold of benefit’ when it comes to resource development in this country. It is currently being examined closely as a potential launch point for modernizing the “First Nation” interest when it comes to sharing of the benefits from resource development.
Mr. Coates and this critical policy discussion will also achieve another objective – debate.
While we understand that resource revenue sharing, as an element of development is critical, we can’t forget what is truly at the crux of much of the First Nation concern; Sustainable Development. This of course is a larger debate that isn’t so palatable in some circles of political power and control in Canada, including some of the provinces. Why? Because when it comes to the discussion of shared jurisdiction, the playing field becomes a bone of contention for crown governments; are they prepared to formally acknowledge the laws and jurisdictions of First Nations?
Domestic courts continually point to the reality that First Nation jurisdiction is essentially a ‘right to self-determination.’ Essentially, federal and provincial governments in this country have to remain consistent and in line with the rulings that continue favouring arguments by First Nations that their laws are legitimate and that their jurisdictional authority is not arguable.
In Ontario, recent meetings that First Nations have held with Premier Kathleen Wynne and key cabinet ministers opened up formal dialogue about treaties and the role that they will play in shaping public policy in the province.
Chiefs and their experts are quick to point out that while policy will help, the most important ingredient in this new approach will be the respect for First Nation jurisdiction by Ontario. This is a significant step forward in the development of modern treaty relationships in Ontario and goes back to recommendations made by Justice Sidney Linden in the Ipperwash Inquiry stemming from the shooting death of unarmed First Nation protester Dudley George.
Linden’s recommendations were very pointed in that Ontario needed to respect the patchwork of treaties on which the province is situated and that First Nations need to be acknowledged as ‘equal partners.’ This further makes the discussion of First Nation jurisdiction solid in the context of where Ontario is headed on matters of development.
In this context of development of natural resources, First Nations refer to this jurisdiction as a ‘set of responsibilities and formal institutions in place to uphold indigenous rights, laws and obligations.’ In this case, we are speaking about the connection between treaty-making authority and the responsibilities of sustainable development.
First Nation chiefs have been clear in pointing toward a consistent principle in the treaties termed “Spirit and Intent.” First Nations have also been clear about the level and depth of that intent – it underscores the protection of the land and its resources for the next seven generations. There is no alternative to this approach.
To summarize, the new development landscape in Ontario does have a new emphasis on resource revenue sharing, but make no mistake that First Nations are speaking about that as only one aspect of treaty. The land and the people are of vital importance in the decisions made about any development.
It should be without mistake that Canada and the provinces must now begin chipping away at understanding this new reality – First Nation treaty-based jurisdiction will continue to evolve and shape policy in this country and influence how development is authorized.
Chiefs in Ontario are expected to begin addressing specific examples and opportunities to implement models of shared-jurisdiction in months to come.
As a First Nation leader, I’ve come to conclude one clear obligation; that Sustainable Development is the only way forward that will protect humanity and ensure we are upholding the sacred obligation of treaties in Canada.
We must protect the land, provide for the people and share in the earth’s bounty; that’s what the treaties were about – nothing more, nothing less.
*Chief Isadore Day, Wiindawtegowinini is the elected chief of Serpent River Anishinaabe First Nation and also holds the position of Lake Huron Regional Grand Chief. He is a direct descendant of Chief Shingwauk and Chief Wiindawtegiwinini, signatories to the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850.