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Reimagining Canada as Inter-National: Understanding First Nations-Provincial Relationships

Press Release

July 11, 2023

IRPP research presents new path toward reconciliation by reframing Indigenous-provincial relations

Montreal – Relationships between Indigenous Peoples and settlers are often reduced to interactions between two groups: Canada and Indigenous peoples. On top of that, federal-Indigenous interactions are typically given more weight in the public eye, even though relations between the provinces and Indigenous Peoples are much more frequent and far-ranging. To address these issues and help improve the path towards reconciliation, a new paper from the Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation at the Institute for Research on Public Policy sheds light on the significance of provincial-Indigenous interactions and calls for a fresh perspective grounded in diplomacy.

In the paper, co-authors Liam Midzain-Gobin, Caroline Dunton, and Robert Tay Burroughs reimagine the relationship between Indigenous nations and provincial governments as “inter-national” encounters that should be thought of as diplomatic in nature. Doing so recognizes that each actor brings its unique governance systems and sovereignties to the table, emphasizing collaboration and inclusivity as essential for achieving positive outcomes for Indigenous communities.

“Our goal is to examine how the reality of a profound power disparity between settler provincial governments and Indigenous nations in Canada can be reduced. To move more fully towards reconciliation, we must acknowledge the rich complexities and historical diversity of numerous Indigenous nations and provinces, each with their distinct governance systems and traditions,” says Midzain-Gobin, the paper’s lead author.

To demonstrate the potential of this diplomatic approach, the study examines New Brunswick and British Columbia, contrasting the governance strategies that result in vastly different outcomes in Indigenous-provincial relations. While British Columbia has demonstrated an inclusive approach by actively involving Indigenous peoples in decision-making, New Brunswick has shown reluctance to follow a similar path, limiting cooperation and straining relationships with major First Nations within the province.

Ultimately, the study calls upon all stakeholders, including governments and Indigenous communities, to collaborate in developing governance processes that treat Indigenous nations as equal partners and operate in alignment with Indigenous law. Sustained investment, political will, and empowering Indigenous self-determination are vital for continued progress.

“By embracing an inter-national lens and adopting diplomatic practices, we can establish the groundwork for a shared future rooted in collaborative governance that respects Indigenous sovereignty. Sustained investment, political will, and the empowerment of Indigenous self-determination are critical for advancing further progress and achieving true reconciliation,” concludes Charles Breton, the Executive Director of the IRPP’s Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation.

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