NISHNAWBE ASKI NATION/CANADA GOVERNANCE AND EDUCATION JURISDICTION NEGOTIATIONS:
In 1997 the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Chiefs-in-Assembly debated whether or not to enter into discussions with Canada to move out from under the current Indian Act governance using the 1995 Inherent Rights Policy. In 1998, the Chiefs of Nishnawbe Aski Nation passed 98/75 that mandated the NAN Executive Council to enter into discussions with Canada on this matter on behalf of First Nation of NAN.
The NAN Chiefs-in-Assembly also mandated that a Chiefs Steering Committee (CSC) be established to direct the negotiations process and that the NAN Executive and NAN Elders help guide the process. The Chiefs’ Steering is made up of representatives from Tribal Councils and Independent First Nations.
The ultimate goal of self-governance arrangements between the First Nations of Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and the Government of Canada is recognition and respect for our jurisdiction.
From the day our ancestors signed Treaty # 9 and its adhesions, and Treaty # 5, our people have maintained the position that we have never relinquished our governance or our jurisdiction. We maintain that we only agreed to live in peaceful co-existence with non-native people. This is our foundational belief in our relationship with the Government of Canada.
The self-governance negotiations are about developing instruments that will lead to government recognition of First Nation jurisdiction. Through the final agreement, fiscal arrangements and implementation are ways in which Canada will recognize and respect our right of self-determination in areas that directly impact our everyday existence in homes and communities. Canada proposed to do this through policy initiative called the 1995 Inherent Rights Policy (IRP). The policy is very specific in the approach and in scope of the negotiations it commits Canada to negotiate under. This policy document can be found at the following web address: http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/al/idc/ccl/pubs/sg-eng.asp
THE SCOPE OF THE NEGOTIATIONS –UNDER INHERENT RIGHTS POLICY
The scope of the negotiations is broad and includes: constitutions, elections, health and social services, education, language and culture, policing, and law making. There are some areas of law making which will have to be harmonized with Canada’s laws including: divorce, justice, environmental protection and emergency preparedness. Foreign Affairs, Customs and Immigration, National Defence and military are not included in the negotiations. A complete list of the scope of the negotiations can be found in the governance AIP: http://www.nan.on.ca/upload/documents/gs---gov-aip--clean-final-version.pdf.
The scope of jurisdiction for the resulting agreements is restricted to within the existing reserve boundaries of each First Nation and does not include traditional territories. According to Canadian Constitution, lands and resources fall under provincial jurisdiction not federal jurisdiction, are not currently being dealt with in the governance negotiations.
GOVERNANCE AND EDUCATION JURISDICTION:
The NAN/Canada are negotiating self-governance agreements in sectors. The first two sectors being negotiated are Governance and Education Jurisdiction.
Our people have always had the authority to make decisions regarding their own governance and education, but the Government of Canada currently does not acknowledge our authority. Instead, our First Nations are controlled by legislation called the Indian Act.
STAGES OF THE NEGOTIATION PROCESS:
Framework Agreement – completed and signed in the fall of 1999, it sets out the agenda for Agreement-in-Principle negotiations.
Agreement-in-Principle (AIP) –completed in 2009 (not signed), it sets out the full agenda for final agreement negotiations. There is an AIP for Governance and one for Education Jurisdiction.
Final agreement – all the details of governance and education jurisdiction will be worked out including implementation and a new funding agreement. Each community member will vote on whether his or her First Nation should sign the final agreement.
The Canadian Parliament must pass a law to implement the final agreement and lift the application of the Indian Act on governance and education.
First Nations that opt to sign the final agreement will create their own governing structures, systems and governing polices, sections of Indian Act that apply now will longer apply. The First Nations will have recognized and respected jurisdiction and decision making authority in areas of governance and education jurisdiction.
We are currently waiting for Canada to approve the negotiate AIPs so we can move into the final agreement negotiating phase.
It is essential that First Nation members of NAN understand the process and stay up-to-date so that they can make informed decision when times comes to make a decision on the final agreement. One can access the NAN website at: www.nan.on.ca and follow links through Sectors to Governance.
Governance & Education Jurisdiction Sectors
These discussions with the Government of Canada are now in their fifteenth year, having begun in 1997 while Charles Fox was Grand Chief. In August of 2009, the negotiators on both sides initialled the Governance & Education Jurisdiction Agreements-In-Principles (AIPs) signifying the formal negotiations concluded and that each side recommended the signing of the documents. Almost immediately, NAN began to see signs that Canada had had a change of heart. And while NAN expected the AIPs to be signed in the winter of 2010, they remain unsigned to date.
There have been many delays, with the latest in 2011, when Canada come forward with two conditions before the Minister would sign the AIPs. These conditions were already laid out as items in the final agreement, but Canada wanted demonstration that NAN First Nations had the capacity to assume self-government agreements. They also wanted an idea of what our governance process would look like, especially at the territory-wide level.
Canada indicated they needed this information in order to develop a Memorandum to Cabinet for authority to precede into the Final Agreement negotiations. They also indicated that the requested information would help them estimate a timeframe for the negotiations and related costing. NAN expressed (in vain) that these were issues to be discussed in the Final Agreement negotiations stage, as per the terms of the AIPs, but the interests of INAC’s senior bureaucrats outweighed our position.
NAN continues to work for our First Nations in the hope that this process will provide them with needed support in Governance and Education Jurisdiction. With this goal, and with the will of NAN Chiefs-in-Assembly to strive for the affirmation of self-government jurisdiction in Nishnawbe Aski territory, NAN’s Governance Secretariat will continue to participate in self-government negotiations with the government of Canada and/or Ontario.
It is of paramount importance, however, that community members be kept informed as it will ultimately be individual First Nation citizens who ratify the Final Agreements. For more than 10 years we have had NAN territory Tribal Council Support housing the NAN Regional Governance Coordinator (RGCs) with the mandate to inform NAN members about this process. The RGCs will continue to work with communities this year to ensure they have working Community Governance Plans and to monitor their willingness to participate in the process by securing Band Council Resolutions (BCRs) supporting Governance and Education Jurisdiction.
NAN realizes that the current hold on negotiations has dampened some communities’ hope that this process will result in positive change in the near future. But NAN is doing its best to maintain momentum and continues to provide support to communities through the RGCs, the NAN Negotiator and the Governance Secretariat.