Click Here to See Splash Page

Click Here for More News From Turtle Island Native Network


15-17 December 2003

Organized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Perspective on Treaties, Agreements and other Constructive Arrangements
between States and Indigenous Peoples

Background paper prepared by the Government of Canada

The purpose of this document is to address, from the Canadian experience and perspective, some of the issues raised in themes two and four of this United Nations Expert Seminar, namely:

Historical and Contemporary treaties between States and indigenous peoples as a means of contributing to reconciliation; and

Implementation, monitoring and dispute resolution in relation to treaties, including the role of international and regional intergovernmental organizations.

This document provides some commentary on the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Treaties, Agreements and Other Constructive Arrangements and offers some integrating comments about the manner in which domestic approaches to treaties and other constructive arrangements, particularly the Canadian experience, can usefully interact with the international human rights protection system. These include suggestions for conclusions and recommendations from this United Nations seminar.

Canada has a long, diverse and significant experience with treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements. An examination of the principles and the evolution of the actual process of negotiating these agreements, known in Canada as comprehensive land claims or "modern treaties", is the subject of a separate Government of Canada document prepared to address theme three of this United Nations seminar. Further background on the Canadian approach to these modalities can be found in a companion document entitled "Resolving Aboriginal Claims: A Practical Guide to Canadian Experiences" , which is available in English, French and Spanish.

By way of introduction, it is important to note that Canada supports a very large system of negotiations and consultations on treaties and other constructive arrangements, with significant institutional capacity for dispute resolution outside of the judicial process, and, should events prove necessary, recourse to a judicial system in which the Supreme Court of Canada has played a major role in the clarification of treaty and Aboriginal rights. It should also be noted that this set of initiatives, institutions and practices also contains factors which work, either directly or indirectly, to both create a more positive environment in which treaties and other constructive arrangements are negotiated and implemented, and to prevent the need for dispute resolution in the first place.

Theme Two: "Historical and Contemporary treaties between States and indigenous peoples as a means of contributing to reconciliation"

"Canada is a test case for a grand notion - the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences. The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again to live together in peace and harmony." Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996

"The constitutional objective is reconciliation not mutual isolation... Aboriginal peoples do not stand in opposition to, nor are they subjugated by, Canadian sovereignty. They are part of it." Mitchell v. Minister of Natural Resources (2001) 1 S.C.R. 911 paras 133 and 135

The tradition of treaty-making in what was British North America, and what came to be Canada, dates back to the early 18th century with a series of treaties between the British and Aboriginal peoples that solidified the alliance between the two parties. The so-called Peace and Friendship treaties, non-aggression pacts, negotiated between First Nations and the British colonial authorities in what is now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, were largely made to manage the complex military and trade alliances created during this colonial period.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 prohibited the purchase of Aboriginal lands by any party other than the Crown. It set the stage for the negotiation of legally binding documents with Aboriginal peoples on a wide variety of issues. For instance, land cession-type treaties were negotiated in Upper Canada, now Ontario, as a way of managing the relationships between incoming waves of European settlers and First Nations. In turn, this was followed by the negotiation of what are commonly called the "numbered treaties" on the Canadian Prairies, the North, and Northern Ontario. This last phase ended in 1923.

After an hiatus, a number of modern treaties have been negotiated, starting in 1975 with the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) and featuring, most recently, the conclusion of the Tlicho Agreement, signed with the Tlicho First Nation of the Northwest Territories in August 2003. As well, there have been various types of self-government agreements negotiated and signed with First Nations, including the Sechelt agreement in 1986, and the Westbank Agreement in October 2003 in British Columbia. Sectoral self-government agreements have been developed, notably the Mi'kmaq Education Agreement with Nova Scotia First Nations and the Government of Nova Scotia. Public forms of government have been established, including the Nunavut territorial government in 1999. And, as noted in the companion Government of Canada document on theme three, "Analysis of principles, processes and the essential elements of modern treaty making", there are many comprehensive claims and self-government negotiations tables that are very active, ranging from northern and western Canada across the country to Newfoundland and Labrador, where the large agreement with the Labrador Inuit Association is awaiting ratification by the Labrador Inuit. Constitutional recognition of existing Aboriginal and treaty rights in Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, was extended to recognize as treaty rights, those rights acquired through both existing and future land claims settlements. There has thus been a long history and on-going efforts to establish and recognize treaty rights. This has been achieved on the basis of government policy, largely through negotiations, and encouraged by the courts. As noted by Chief Justice Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997:

"Those negotiations should also include other aboriginal nations which have a stake in the territory claimed. Moreover, the Crown is under a moral, if not legal, duty to enter into and conduct those negotiations in good faith. Ultimately, it is through negotiated settlements, with good faith and give and take on all sides, reinforced by the judgments of this Court, that we will achieve to be a basic purpose of s.35(1) - "the reconciliation of the pre-existence of aboriginal societies with the sovereignty of the Crown." Let us face it, we are all here to stay." Delgamuukw v B.C. (1997) 3 S.C.R. 1010 (Lamer C. J. at para 186)

There are several points to be made with respect to the Canadian experience with such treaties and constructive arrangements, all dealing in one way or another with the different kinds of relationships created and maintained by these arrangements.

Considering both historic agreements and modern treaties and negotiations, it is reasonable to state that the majority of First Nations and Inuit communities are covered by - or implicated in - one form of constructive agreement or another. All of the thirty plus First Nations in the Maritime provinces of Canada are implicated in one or more of the Peace and Friendship treaties. There are over 300 First Nations communities covered by what are commonly referred to as the "numbered treaties". Modern treaties concluded since 1973 cover over 80 First Nation and Inuit communities. Taken together, there is a skein of comprehensive land claim agreements which include almost every Inuit community in Canada. And, in addition to existing self-government and land claim agreements, there are another 80 comprehensive claims and/or self-government negotiations in progress involving over 200 First Nation and Inuit communities.

The prevalence of these treaties and constructive arrangements means that many, indeed, a majority of First Nations and/or Inuit communities can legitimately lay claim to a relationship with Canada that is marked by a certain measure of solemnity, and by mutually binding obligations or expectations. The nature and health of the relationship with the Crown is thus often a central consideration in the life of either First Nations or Inuit communities, and relationship-related issues are often high on the collective agenda of these communities. Often, these relationships are commemorated in solemn ceremonies, either annually, such as Treaty Day, usually celebrated in the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly on October 1st of every year, or on major milestones, as was seen in 1999 at the 100th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 8 in Northern Alberta. The very existence of these treaties helps to shape the cycle of key events and ceremonies, and thus they become an integral part of the social and cultural fabric of these communities.

These treaties - either historic or modern - bring with them specific rights and provisions. Whatever the issues related to implementation of these provisions - or the perceived failure of Canada to act on these obligations, the fact remains that these rights - such as a treaty right to hunt - serve to help define the relationship between members of these communities and their non-aboriginal neighbours. Moreover, in the case of modern treaties, these relationships can include: provisions for the use and harvesting of both renewable and non-renewable resources; involvement in fish and wildlife management schemes; and, participation in environmental management regimes, involving land and water. Modern treaties also address issues of how Aboriginal communities will relate to third parties, for example, hunting lodge operations on comprehensive land claim areas.

The specific claims process (where issues of the unlawful taking of lands reserved for First Nations are addressed), and the Treaty Land Entitlement process (where it is determined that a Treaty First Nation did not receive the full extent of land to which it was entitled by the relevant numbered treaty), often result in sizable parcels of land being acquired by the affected First Nations community. The implementation of these specific claims and/or Treaty Land Entitlements thus brings First Nations communities into close, operating contact with all of those entities that play a role in land management, namely regional governments, special water or land use authorities, Crown or other public sector corporations, water or energy utility companies. In modern treaties, Aboriginal communities have secured ownership rights to large tracts of land, with clear rules with respect to who has access to what kind of land.

All of this is another way of saying that specific and comprehensive claims bring with them the ability to redraw the boundaries of Aboriginal lands, which, in and of itself, is a very significant investment in the clarification of the relationship between these communities and their surrounding non-aboriginal neighbours.

It is important to understand the multi-dimensional nature of these historic and modern treaties, and related modalities like self-government agreements. In addition to defining the parameters of the core relationship between the Aboriginal community and the Canadian government, or "Crown", many of these agreements provide the land, resources, capital and jurisdictional authorities necessary to allow these Aboriginal communities to pursue and conduct constructive relationships with neighbouring communities and other levels of government, for example, provincial, territorial or municipal. In particular, the capital transfers involved in these claims settlements provide the capacity for Aboriginal communities to participate in the economy and pursue investments, either locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.

The architecture of these treaties serves to create both relationships between Aboriginal communities and the Canadian economy and society as a whole, and to foster economic, social and cultural development at the community level.

"The historic agreement with the Nisga'a people represents a major breakthrough, not just for the 6,000 Nisga'a, but also for the 48 First Nations in the process of negotiating lasting treaties with Canada and British Columbia. More importantly, this deal sets out a framework for the parties - the Nisga'a, Canada and British Columbia - to establish a new relationship that is constructive, stable and respectful."

The late Chief Joe Mathais, of the Squamish First Nation, and one of the most influential Aboriginal leaders in Canadian history, commenting on the Nisga'a Treaty.

"Today's achievement assures us that understanding between distinct cultures is possible and that mutual respect and cooperation are attainable. This moment marks the start of our efforts to ratify the Agreement and make it law. The challenge now is to turn the work of our negotiators into a monumental achievement for the Inuit of Labrador, the people of this province and Canadian society as a whole. I believe that we can, and will achieve this, and I look forward to the ratification of the Agreement by the Labrador Inuit, the House of Assembly and Parliament."

Labrador Inuit Association President William Anderson III on the initialling of the Labrador Land Claims Agreement.

As noted above, these agreements and negotiations about agreements number in the hundreds and have been and remain an integral part of the political fabric of Canada. As more comprehensive claims and self-government agreements are negotiated, they will become more embedded in the political and constitutional dimensions of life in Canada. For example, modern treaties require the passage of enabling legislation by the Parliament of Canada, such as the Nisga'a Final Agreement Act, and the appropriate provincial legislature as well.

A quick count of federal legislation shows 21 such statutes, a not inconsiderable body of federal legislation. This body of legislation (predominantly federal but increasingly provincial, as provinces like British Columbia, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador become parties to modern treaties) is important in its own right as an indication of the priority being given to the rights and priorities of Aboriginal Canadians, both individually and collectively, by the legislative function of Canada. Review of these statutes by Parliamentary and provincial legislative committees, provide important opportunities for Aboriginal leaders to educate legislators on Aboriginal priorities. The debating of these statutes, and their passage constitute highly visible milestones in the life of these Aboriginal communities and in the national political life of Canada as a nation and civil society. Through this legislative vehicle, modern treaties, self-government agreements and other constructive arrangements generate a bridge between Aboriginal Canadians and Canada's core democratic institutions.

Theme Four: "Implementation, monitoring and dispute resolution in relation to treaties, including the role of international and regional intergovernmental organizations"

The extent and diversity of the relationships between the Crown and First Nations and Inuit communities described above would also suggest that there is a significant challenge in terms of ensuring the effective implementation of these many agreements, the monitoring of implementation, and the use of dispute resolution mechanisms to solve problems arising out of these many relationships. Claims of non-performance in the implementation of treaty-related obligations and commitments are bound to arise in a situation with this proliferation of agreements. Here again, it is important to understand both the specific dispute resolution or implementation monitoring modalities and the context in which such implementation, monitoring and dispute resolution activities occur.

There has been an evolution in the types of monitoring and dispute resolution mechanisms designed to ensure the effective implementation of treaties and constructive arrangements. Again, without duplicating the material found in the companion documents mentioned above, a brief summary of this evolution is useful at this point.

The treaties made between 1701 and 1923 did not encompass any mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the agreements or contain any built-in dispute resolution functions to address any claims or grievances that might arise. The negotiators believed that the treaties would be fully implemented as described in the final document.

However, there has been disagreement between both Treaty First Nations and the Government of Canada as to the actual terms of the treaty and the effective implementation of the treaty clauses. In order to achieve a better understanding of treaty interpretation of both parties, a number of initiatives have been created to foster dialogue and mutual understanding of the outstanding treaty issues. Since 1993, the Government of Canada has been working with several Treaty First Nation groups in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Northern Ontario by opening exploratory treaty discussions. In 1997, the Government of Canada and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians Nations created the Office of the Treaty Commissioner to review treaty issues and promote better understanding of treaties in Saskatchewan.

On November 19, 2003, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs announced the creation of the Treaties Relationship Commission. At this announcement, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development said :

"Mutual understanding is critical to the success of any relationship. It is important that all Canadians learn about Aboriginal people, their history and their culture and the contemporary concerns. Establishment of the Treaty Relationship Commission in Manitoba will provide a forum for discussion and education on historical treaties and treaty issues."

Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Dennis Whitebird, stated that : "It is important for the Canadian people to understand the fundamental role of treaties and the contribution of First Nations people in the development of Canada."

The first of the modern treaties, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA), provides for a monitoring mechanism, namely, the Cree-Naskapi Commission, and does have an amendment clause requiring the concurrence of three parties to the agreement. Neither this agreement nor the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, signed between Canada and the Inuit of the western Arctic, required implementation agreements.

After experiencing different views about implementation in Canada, since 1986 the Government of Canada has established a policy requirement that modern treaties be accompanied by implementation plans. Thus, since the late 1980s, all subsequent modern treaties, and free-standing self-government agreements, include, in addition to amendment clauses, extensive implementation agreements or contracts which specify the manner in which various provisions of these agreements are to be executed. These agreements often include a range of co-ordinating or co-management boards, committees or other mechanisms aimed at ensuring a flow of information, commentary and, where necessary, criticism between the parties to these agreements.

The Implementation Branch, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), addresses hundreds of implementation issues on an annual basis, and ensures that regular meetings occur between Government of Canada representatives and Aboriginal parties to help provide full and effective implementation of the provisions of these agreements. For instance, last month, a conference brought together representatives of all Aboriginal groups in Canada who have settled their comprehensive land claim, to discuss with government officials, academics and the private sector, successes, challenges and ways to redefine relationships through intergovernmental processes. The aims were to define potential solutions on issues of common concern and to plan for the future.

An important step in understanding specific monitoring and dispute resolution modalities is the consideration of the broader context within these Aboriginal-specific mechanisms operate. Several factors are important in this respect: access by Aboriginal Canadians to Canada's legal system; support for national and regional Aboriginal organizations that can act as advocates for Aboriginal rights; targeted attempts at healing and public education efforts aimed at changing the environment in which these activities occur; and, training and capacity building which is broadly supportive of dispute resolution and healing.

In Canada, Aboriginal people now enjoy access to the judicial system, as individual and collective plaintiffs. Accordingly, many individuals, communities and leaders are increasingly knowledgeable about the ability to seek judicial clarification of their treaty and aboriginal rights, which enjoy constitutional protection under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. As well, there is increasing litigation in which Aboriginal Canadians are making recourse to provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In direct support of this process, the Test Case Funding (TCF) program has been put in place. Over the past 20 years, it has funded 160 cases (including 47 cases at the Supreme Court of Canada) at a cost of approximately $20.5 million.

Many cases have resulted in land-mark decisions which have informed the behaviour and policies of the Government of Canada and provincial governments, as well. Indeed, the history of the modern treaties process has been shaped by Supreme Court of Canada decisions, starting with Calder in 1973. There have been, as well, a number of very significant Supreme Court of Canada decisions on historic treaties which have informed - and given direction to - governments with respect to the substance of specific treaty rights, the manner in which such rights are to be dealt with, and the status of treaties themselves. Thus, in Canada at least, the judicial arm of government plays an important and independent role in shaping the "rules of the game" with respect to implementation of treaties and other constructive arrangements, and the resolution of disputes arising from these treaties and arrangements.

Implementation, monitoring and dispute resolution do not occur in a political or communications vacuum. They must be seen as part of a broader range of societal priorities, otherwise, there are no visible consequences to perceptions of indifferent implementation or unsuccessful dispute resolution. In this context, it is important to recognize the role played by national and regional Aboriginal organizations in putting Aboriginal concerns, priorities and issues on the agendas of public institutions and private corporations.

In Canada, federal government funding is provided to national organizations such as the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) and Pauktuutit, and to a range of regional Aboriginal organizations, from the Atlantic Policy Conference in Nova Scotia to the Council of Yukon First Nations. The advocacy roles pursued by these organizations are crucial in terms of creating a context in which issues of implementation and dispute resolution have intrinsic importance for the health of the broader relationship between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, and their respective governments and institutions.

Creating an environment conducive to reconciliation and healing, and to effective problem solving and dispute resolution, sometimes requires highly public undertakings and statements, often to address fundamental and long-standing grievances. In Canada, for example, both the federal and provincial levels of government have moved to address these issues directly and in a highly visible manner. The Government of Canada appointed the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) in the aftermath of the Oka crisis to "examine a broad range of issues concerning aboriginal peoples in Canada." The 1990s also saw the establishment of Manitoba's Aboriginal Justice Inquiry to report into native justice. Without getting into the details of these reports, the function of both reports was to change how society and government as a whole considered Aboriginal people, their rights, aspirations and needs in the context of modern Canadian society. As such, this can have only a positive impact on dispute resolution.

The Statement of Reconciliation: Learning from the Past, presented by the Government of Canada on January 7th, 1998, is another example of a very conscious step to address the relationship between Canada and Aboriginal Canadians, to pursue healing, to educate all Canadians about the importance of this relationship, and thus to change the public context in which key elements of this relationship, including dispute resolution, occur. Similarly, in December 2000, the Government of Canada made a Statement of Apology to the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Concerning Indian Residential Schools by the Government of Canada, which again was aimed at healing, at reconciliation and at creating a more positive context for negotiation and dispute resolution.

More recently, INAC has been supporting a number of public education initiatives aimed at improving understanding between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians. Many of these public education initiatives are focussed on the education system, where they are met with uniformly enthusiastic responses on the part of teachers and students. In the last year, this has been supplemented by "web casting" initiatives which create real time networks between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal classrooms. In addition, polling on opinion about Aboriginal issues, involving both Aboriginal and non-aboriginal respondents contributes to better understanding of the issues surrounding specific grievances and dispute resolution efforts.

Canada's approach is based on the conviction that negotiations are the best means for achieving reconciliation and harmonious arrangements between states and indigenous peoples. As a result, Canada has taken many steps to improve the effectiveness of the negotiations process.

For example, the Government of Canada, the Government of British Columbia and the First Nations Summit have jointly established the British Columbia Treaty Commission (BCTC) with a mandate to oversee the negotiation of modern treaties in that province. The BCTC performs a number of functions involved with facilitation, funding and public information and education. Consultative mechanisms have been established to ensure that the interests of other sectors of the British Columbia economy and society are also engaged in this process, which is another way of engaging all interests in ways that will prevent misunderstandings and thus reduce the need for dispute resolution. More generally, the Government of Canada has supported joint training exercises, in which all parties to a modern treaty negotiation receive the same training in interest-based negotiations techniques, as a way of reducing conflict and encouraging collective problem solving at the negotiation tables.

In the area of specific claims, the Indian Specific Claims Commission was established in 1991. Learning from that experience, a joint task force on its functioning and from developments in the area of specific claims negotiations, the Canadian Centre for the Independent Resolution of First Nations Specific Claims is being established with the passage, on November 7, 2003, of the Specific Claims Resolution Act. The new Canadian Centre will have a Commission division to facilitate negotiations, and a Tribunal division to resolve disputes and make final decisions on claims up to a maximum of $10 million.

Other initiatives see the development of institutional capacity for Aboriginal Canadians to advance their own priorities in ways that may reduce the need for dispute resolution. For example, the First Nations Land Management Act provides First Nations with the means to manage their own natural resources on reserve and thereby pursue sustainable development objectives, including interfaces with neighbouring jurisdictions. Similarly, legislation submitted to Parliament for First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management proposes creation of four institutions, in taxation, financing, management and statistical analysis, all of which will give First Nations the authorities and capacities to deal with their non-aboriginal counterparts in a more equal and capable fashion.

Concluding Comments on Canadian Experience

It is important to recognize the unparalleled extent - and diversity - of the Canadian experience with both historic and contemporary treaties and constructive arrangements, and to come to an understanding of the materiality of these agreements, and the functions they perform in modern Canadian society.

Whatever the degree of physical isolation or socio-economic disparity experienced by many Aboriginal communities, the web of treaties, both historic and contemporary, now in place serve to "connect" these communities with the Crown, i.e., the Canadian government, with other levels of government and, more generally, with neighbouring non-aboriginal communities.

While "connectedness" is not equivalent to reconciliation, having relationships that are formal (and often supported by enabling legislation or other mechanisms with gravity of purpose) are an absolutely necessary part of creating relationships that will lead to reconciliation and new and more respectful ways of living together.

This suggests strongly that the international human rights protection system, along with interested governments in other countries, may want to consider the scope and diversity of the Canadian experience with these arrangements as constituting a unique opportunity to understand the workings of such treaties and constructive arrangements.

In this respect, learning from the Canadian experience may be an important avenue for the international human rights process as it addresses indigenous issues.

"News of the Nisga'a Final Agreement has travelled far beyond the Nass Valley - across British Columbia, Canada and around the world. Governments and aboriginal peoples are all watching the implementation of our treaty with keen interest. They are also seeking the advice of Nisga'a negotiators and government members. Aboriginal people from North, South and Central America, Taiwan, Australia and Scandinavia have all travelled to the Nass Valley to see Nisga'a government in action and to learn first-hand from the Nisga'a experience. The treaty is an inspiration for our people and other First Nations. We take great pride in this achievement."
Dr. Joseph Gosnell, President, Nisga'a Lisims Government, commenting on the Nisga'a Treaty in a speech at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

The situation in Canada has witnessed a very substantial transformation in the landscape of dispute resolution, implementation and monitoring related to the relationship between the Crown and the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. There is now a diverse and wide-ranging set of mechanisms in place, all focussing in one way or another on the quality and equity of the relationship between the Crown and various Aboriginal groups. As with any situation marked by many modalities, opinions vary with respect to the effectiveness of these monitoring and dispute resolution mechanisms, the variability in these monitoring and dispute resolution mechanisms reflecting the variability in the treaties and arrangements themselves. There may also be differing views held about the degree to which these monitoring and dispute modalities constitute a coherent whole, an integrated system of such activities.

That noted, it is also the case that many aspects of the Canadian "dispute resolution landscape" merit international attention and consideration in terms of the issues addressed, the precise modalities employed, and their effectiveness. While there is always room for improvement, to adjust to changing circumstances and emerging challenges, many of these monitoring and dispute resolution mechanisms have "lessons learned" and best practices to share with all of those interested in the protection and advancement of the rights of indigenous populations.

As noted by the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in a lecture in 2002:

"Aboriginal rights rank as one of the prime pre-occupations of Canadian social policy, governance and law as we begin the twenty-first century... Completing the task of working out this relationship promptly and on fair and equitable terms will provide the basis for lasting national peace, stability and economic and individual growth. Canada, the provinces and aboriginal people are directing enormous energy and effort to this end. Still, the complexity and breadth of the task seem bewildering. It may come as some comfort to know that we are not alone with these issues or in our efforts to find an equitable and durable solution..." The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, February 8, 2002

Comments on the Recommendations of the Special Rapporteur

The dispossession of indigenous peoples from their land must be addressed and States should not undertake activities that would harm the environment of indigenous lands or impact on traditional activities.
Canada agrees and has undertaken an extensive effort to negotiate modern treaties.

It is also why Canada has argued in discussions on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for inclusion of new provisions which call on States to provide fair and equitable processes to recognize, determine, adjudicate or agree upon the rights or interests of indigenous peoples in relations to lands and resources to which they have a traditional connection.

the overall indigenous problem cannot be solved exclusively through legal recourse and legal definition. Problems should be negotiated through political fora instead of the courts.

Canada agrees. As outlined above, in Canada a number of alternatives to the court system have been put in place to resolve differences, including treaty commissions and new structures for resolving specific claims. These are designed to serve the same purpose, namely, creating an informed and positive environment for healing, for reconciliation and for mutually respectful and effective problem solving and dispute resolution. At the same time, the Canadian experience underscores the vital contribution that can be made by an enlightened and activist judiciary, and thus the importance of access to the judicial process.

all indigenous rights and all human rights and freedoms recognized in the UN Charter and other international instruments must be applicable to indigenous peoples. This includes all domestic and internal rights and freedoms.

Canada has been active in international efforts at the United Nations and elsewhere to establish internationally agreed rights of indigenous peoples. To date, there has not been agreement on the scope and extent of indigenous rights.

All human rights and freedoms recognized in the UN Charter and other international instruments should apply to indigenous people and individuals in a non-discriminatory manner.

Internationally agreed indigenous rights, as applicable, should apply to indigenous peoples worldwide. All domestically agreed rights and freedoms, however, need not extend to indigenous peoples elsewhere. Indeed, in the Canadian context, Aboriginal peoples have some rights that non-aboriginal Canadians do not. In addition, since Aboriginal rights are context-specific, the rights of one Aboriginal group may not be the same as those for another.

indigenous peoples want to establish or re-establish new and solid relationships that are non-confrontational with the societies in the countries where they coexist.

Canada has placed emphasis on negotiations to promote better understandings between parties and contribute to reconciliation. This has been true of the historic treaties and especially self-government arrangements and land claims settlements in Canada.

This experience with negotiations is something which we have encouraged in international standard-setting, notably in discussions on self-determination and how it might apply to indigenous peoples living within existing states. Thus Canada firmly believes that negotiations are the best means for achieving reconciliation and harmonious arrangements between states and indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples who have made treaties/agreements have not lost their international legal status as nations/peoples, and their treaties are international in nature and those who have never entered into treaties/agreements have the status of nations unless proven otherwise.

We cannot re-write history, and in only rare instances can indigenous peoples be restored fully to their situations prior to colonisation or other historic events. It is not therefore helpful to suggest that agreements between indigenous peoples and States can or should be characterized as international treaties in the sense of agreements between sovereign entities. It does not reflect the domestic or international legal or practical realities of those agreements. Equally importantly, it risks reducing the onus on countries to improve continually their domestic laws, policies and practices to achieve a lasting reconciliation with indigenous peoples. It also risks losing sight that historic treaties and agreements, while important foundations for reconciliation, are not the only means to ensure indigenous peoples achieve their rightful place within the modern societies and economies of sovereign States.

In achieving the reconciliation that States and indigenous peoples should be seeking, care must be taken to ensure that domestic law, policies and practices remain the primary focus.

International standards have an important part to play, but ultimately, their greatest utility is to influence the domestic level.

In that manner, the international level can offer lessons and encourage countries and indigenous peoples around the world to work toward common goals, while permitting States and their indigenous peoples to tailor solutions to their specific historical circumstances and current needs.

Suggested Conclusions and Recommendations for the Expert Seminar

Theme Two: Historical and Contemporary treaties between States and indigenous peoples as a means of contributing to reconciliation

Over the past 30 years, Canada's comprehensive land claims policy has evolved from a contractual approach to resolving land claims into a process of modern treaty-making. In this process, the achievement of the treaty agreements is not the end. Rather, treaties set out the framework for new relationships which provide certainty with respect to use of lands and resources and predictability and clarity for the exercise of governance and lawmaking powers.

These treaty-making processes, no matter how difficult, continue to offer the best means for achieving the reconciliation between the prior presence of Aboriginal peoples and the assertion of sovereignty of the Crown.

Canada has placed emphasis on negotiations to promote better understanding between parties and contribute to reconciliation. This has been true of the historic treaties and especially self-government arrangements and land claims settlements in Canada. This experience with negotiations is something which we have encouraged in international standard-setting, notably in discussions of self-determination and how it might apply to indigenous peoples living within existing states. Thus we firmly believe that negotiations are the best means for achieving reconciliation and harmonious arrangements between states and indigenous peoples.

There is often a need for better understanding of issues between indigenous groups and government as well as the broader public. This is especially true where there may be many different treaties and/or agreements. Public education on issues is important. States, along with indigenous groups, should undertake public education activities on specific and broader treaty and indigenous issues. Ceremonial events to mark events and renew relationships, such as treaty days, should be held. Other means to promote understanding could include treaty commissions and similar bodies.

Theme Three: Analysis of processes, principles and other essential elements in modern-day treaty making

Analysis of existing state processes to resolve Aboriginal claims should be conducted and circulated widely to interested states, international bodies and indigenous organizations. This would enable states contemplating new or revised processes to learn from other states' experiences and best practices. Canada has recently prepared a report on Canadian practices,

Resolving Aboriginal Claims: A Practical Guide to Canadian Experiences, which is available in English, French and Spanish.

The existing text of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should include a reference to processes to resolve land and resource claims involving indigenous peoples and states. Suggested wording would be:

"States should provide fair and equitable processes to recognize, determine, adjudicate or agree upon the rights or interests of indigenous peoples in relation to lands and resources to which they have a traditional connection..."

Theme Four: Implementation, monitoring and dispute resolution in relation to treaties, including the role of international and regional intergovernmental organizations

After experiencing different views about implementation in Canada, since 1986 the comprehensive claims policy has instituted a requirement that modern treaties be accompanied by implementation plans. This has helped avoid disputes. It is therefore recommended that for complex and comprehensive agreements, implementation plans be developed in tandem with overall agreements.

Other measures can be considered by states to help resolve issues. These can include:

test case funding to enable people to bring lawsuits forward which would help establish legal principles;

claims processes which can provide an alternative to more costly litigation; commissions and other bodies designed to bring together different parties.

Due to the sui generis nature of treaties between states and indigenous groups and the variety and complexity of treaties, agreements and arrangements, international monitoring and dispute resolution is not appropriate. Article 36 of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, should be revised to:

"Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition and enforcement of treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements concluded with States or their successors, and to have States honour and respect such treaties, agreements and arrangements. Conflicts and disputes that cannot otherwise be settled may be submitted to competent domestic bodies."

As Canada has said before, however, indigenous peoples or individuals can exercise their existing or future to rights of recourse to international tribunals which are competent to deal with internationally agreed rights and standards.


Front Page | Discussion | Education | News | Healing and Wellness
Contact | Resources | Communities | Business | Culture

Legal Notice
© All contents are copyright 1998 - 2003
No material from this site may be reproduced, modified, republished,
transmitted or distributed in any way without the owner's prior approval.
All Rights Reserved
by INFOCOM Management-
Native owned and operated