“The only federal policy that has produced sustained improvement in the lives of Indigenous peoples is the policy of self-determination.” - Stephen Cornell
Can the Canadian government bring itself to get out of the way of Canada’s First Nations?
And when it does, are First Nations prepared to lead as Nations?
When Justin Trudeau issued mandate letters to his cabinet ministers, he stated that no relationship was more important than that with the Indigenous peoples. The relationship must be one of nation to nation. But after more than 150 years of deliberate attempts by successive Canadian governments to destroy us, the goals of the new government were bound to fall short. This is because there are no longer any nation apparatus’ to have a relationship with.
The Secwepemc Nation is a prime example of being a nation without any supporting structure. There are more than 10,000 Secwepemc “band members” who make up 17 Indian Act Bands. There is tremendous potential to exercise immense political and economic clout in the massive Secwepemc territory. However, the political environment is such that each First Nation believes that they are better off to go it alone.
There are communities who work together but even these communities still suffer from the effects of the colonial legacy. This is because after Indian Agents retreated, the government still needed to administer the Indian Act regime over Indians in Canada. They wanted to do so at the cheapest possible cost to the federal government. So, they amalgamated many bands into “Tribal Councils”. But, the Tribal Councils were not even close to resembling any sort of nation. The Cariboo Tribal Council, for example, was made up of Carrier, Chilcotin, and Secwepemc peoples. To nobody’s surprise, the Tribal Councils started to break up and reform along nation lines back in the 90’s. However, this left the Secwepemc Nation with two separate Tribal Councils and a number of “non-affiliated” First Nations. Current divisions within the Secwepemc Nation are a clear legacy of Canadian colonialism.
The benefits of acting as one Secwepemc Nation far outweigh the individual gains of each community working alone. But because of the colonial history and current INAC policies, First Nations feel better off going it alone. In Economic terms, we call this the prisoners dilemma. It will never work!
The divisions within the nation are still being perpetuated by current INAC policies. A simple but clear example is that funding is based on Indian Act Bands as defined by INAC. If the government wanted truly have nation to nation relationships, they would include funding that is nation-based as part of their formulas. Moreover, they would fund nation building efforts. Until Indigenous Nations are supporting in nation re-building efforts, the federal government efforts to have a nation to nation relationship will fail and any improvements in the day to day livelihoods of Indigenous peoples will be temporary.
Increases to program funding, and fiddling around the edges of the Indian Act will never work. It’s time for the Secwepemc Nation to roll up our sleeves and begin the task of nation re-building. As a nation, we must seek to:
Carl has been actively involved in re-imagining nation building. He has travelled extensively throughout Secwepemc territory and is fluent in Secwepemctsin.