Back to the Future: Helping indigenous peoples recover autonomy and self-reliance

“Use the tools of the Pakesha (non-Aboriginals) for your bodily sustenance and the treasures of your ancestors to adorn your head.”

– Sir Apiramda Ngata, indigenous Maori leader during the 1900’s

It is no secret small and big-C conservatives have a perception problem within the Aboriginal community[i]. Every election, Aboriginal organizations send out ringing endorsements of Liberal candidates, arguing that Grits are usually the lesser of two evils. Moreover, Aboriginals associate right-wing policies with leaders who wish to eliminate treaty and Aboriginal rights and, unfortunately, this misleading message trickles down to the masses. So right or wrong, this perception acts as a barrier to greater First Nation participation within the conservative movement and Aboriginal support for conservative policies.

This need not be the case. There are important conservative values, such as respect for autonomy and devolution that can be incorporated into a new conservative vision that can appeal to First Nations. By encouraging both economic self-reliance and political autonomy, conservatives can create a vision that resonates within Aboriginal communities.

A new conservative vision for Aboriginal peoples must, first and foremost, accept the constitutional realities of Aboriginal and treaty rights. In fact, it will be argued that respecting treaties is part of the classical liberal tradition of respecting contracts. Conservatives should be the most enthusiastic supporters of treaties. It will also be argued that a new conservative Aboriginal policy should be sensitive to the role that historic colonialism has played in diminishing Aboriginals as peoples and how this can be reversed.

Last, philosophical conservatives should look to positive models for indigenous empowerment that can be imported here in Canada. For example, the New Zealand Maori are examples of indigenous peoples who have achieved increased economic self-reliance and increased political autonomy at the same time. Both values are not mutually exclusive.

CONSERVATIVES AND ABORIGINALS

Looking at policy differences between the Canada’s historic right-leaning parties, it seems difficult to imagine that the current Conservative Party contains supporters from both the old Progressive Conservative Party and the Reform Party. No where is this discrepancy more evident than in the area of Aboriginal policy. After all, it was the Progressive Conservatives under Brian Mulroney that supported the failed Charlottetown Accord in 1993. Beyond enshrining undefined principles of Aboriginal self-government, the document also included a guarantee of Aboriginal representation within the House of Commons and the Senate. The Accord also controversially called for a third order of Aboriginal government.

This contrasts with the Reform Party and its vigorous campaign against the Accord. Reform policy, as envisioned in the original Blue Book, opposed greater First Nations self-government, at least as defined by indigenous leaders, and supported a system of First Nations governance roughly comparable to municipal government. Reformers opposed what they termed, “race-based fisheries,” and called for a racially neutral system of natural resource allocation. The Reform vision emphasized increased self-reliance for indigenous communities and spoke the language of empowerment and equality.

Both visions speak to different values. The first vision is defined within the language of cultural identity, autonomy and political nationhood. The second vision is rooted in a classical liberal conception of rights that envisions increased individual rights for Aboriginals and stresses common citizenship between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals. Both visions are legitimately conservative, but speak to different tendencies within the conservative family. However, both visions are unrealistic and fail to account for constitutionally-entrenched rights and court rulings stemming from those rights. The right way forward is to incorporate both visions. They also fail to take into consideration changes occurring within the Aboriginal community, including greater acceptance of economic development opportunities within indigenous communities, as well as grassroots opposition to the restrictions of the Indian Act. There is a generation of progressive chiefs, such as Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Band in British Columbia, who are also realizing the need to bring wealth to their communities and cut the handouts[ii]. These are the chiefs of the future that conservatives need to make common cause with.

At its root, conservative thinking can be reconciled with the discourse of indigenous nationalism or communitarian thought. Indigenous academic Taiaike Alfred indentified that the fundamental desire of modern indigenous communities are to “reclaim political and geographic space” in order to find solutions to their own problems[iii]. The message from many indigenous leaders is the desire to break the dependency on “colonial institutions.” These messages can be reconciled with the conservative message of self-reliance, autonomy and freedom.

New Aboriginal thinkers, such as BC lawyer Calvin Helin, have also burst onto the scene. Helin’s book Dances with Dependency is now a best seller and is based on recovering an indigenous sense of self-reliance. He is part of a growing movement of young Aboriginals who don’t accept the idea that economic integration comes at the expense of First Nation identity. It is these new leaders that conservatives must make common cause with.

RESPECTING THE TREATY RELATIONSHIP

Conservatives need to avoid reading Aboriginal issues in a way that ignores history. First Nation people are in a particular condition because of historical choices made by the British and Canadian governments. As Aboriginal author Calvin Helin argues, indigenous peoples were not always the way they are now. Before massive federal transfers came to their communities or systems of social assistance, First Nations were self-reliant. The experience of putting them on reserves and depriving them of their sources of livelihood cut off this self-reliance and made them wards of the state, dependent on government for handouts[iv]. The history of indigenous peoples in Canada has often been one of coercion, manipulation and control. This should upset people who are committed to liberty and justice, as conservatives are.

Any renewed conservative vision for Aboriginals must appreciate Canadian history. The British Crown never actually conquered the indigenous inhabitants of what is now Canada. For military and strategic reasons, they entered into treaties with them. These agreements were never destroyed and have entered into our constitutional framework. They are as legally binding as our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Now that treaties have been firmly entrenched into our constitution, it is time to move beyond the treaty debate. While many within the Conservative Party understand the constitutional nature of treaties, it is not always clear that some grassroots supporters or organizations do. It is not uncommon to hear in conservative quarters arguments for the end of “special status” for First Nations[v]. Sometimes this includes the end of benefits or lands that are attached to treaties[vi]. For example, reading over postings about Aboriginal issues on the popular conservative Free Dominion Website, one notices a lack of understanding from average Conservative supporters about treaties and what they involve[vii]. This is not surprising given the abysmal knowledge Canadians have about treaties[viii].

Nowadays, much discussion within conservative circles revolves around the proper interpretation of treaties. For example, there is nothing within treaties that requires the creation of commercial fisheries exclusively for First Nations. This is a government policy that should be changed. Treaties also do not allow for hunting for commercial reasons, as the rights are for subsistence. As much as possible, conservatives should support treaty interpretations that are limited and allow indigenous peoples to be independent from government.

Sovereignty is a big issue for Aboriginals. Many communities argue that they never consented to being ruled. But, this is revisionist history, as treaties involved an implicit acceptance of Crown sovereignty. The price for European settlement was enactment of these treaties which provided future benefit to Indians, but also recognized that the monarch held underlying title to the land. The good news is that the hard core sovereignty supporters are in the minority. It is the radical Six Nations communities, or Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal academics, who are preaching this revisionist history. On the majority of reserves, the great ‘reasonable majority’ of First Nations recognize that everyone is hear to stay and that sovereignty is wielded by someone and it is not them. These are the people conservatives need to reach with a vision of increased political autonomy and economic self-reliance. Conservatives should also avoid “state of nature” arguments that argue indigenous peoples were ripe for conquest because they did not live in civilized societies[ix]. In a modern context, these arguments are about as profitable as radical Aboriginals who try to argue away Canada’s claim to sovereignty.

Conservatives should also not read treaties as requiring Canada to enter into an international-level relationship with First Nations. This is what radical Aboriginals want. But, First Nation leaders cannot have it both ways. They cannot insist that Canada respect the treaties while at the same time arguing that they are not bound by the Canadian polity. Implicit to the treaties was an understanding that Aboriginal nations were losing their complete sovereignty in exchange for certain benefits. As political scientist Tom Flangan correctly points out, treaties frequently used terms like “surrender” and referred to Indians almost invariably as “subjects.[xConservatives, while respecting the treaty relationship, must hold the feet of First Nation leaders to the fire on this issue.

CONSTITUTIONAL ENTRENCHEMENT AND CONSERVATIVES

When it comes to conservatives, the greatest fear among Aboriginals is that our side of the political spectrum wants to deny their treaty-based rights. There is a perception that right wing leaders want to “roll back” Aboriginal rights and re-introduce the failed White Paper of the 1960s. For those who don’t know, the White Paper was a major policy paper introduced by the Liberals under Pierre Trudeau that called for the end to “special status” for Aboriginal people and called for the gradual phasing out of treaties. Native leaders at the time responded furiously to the initiative and it can be argued that the event acted as a catalyst for the development of modern indigenous nationalism.

This led directly to the entrenchment of Section 35 in the new Constitution. This clause guaranteed Aboriginal and treaty rights. It also defined “Aboriginal” as being First Nation, Metis and Inuit. This is where Aboriginal rights to hunt, fish and exercise control over traditional territories derive from.

The most important thing to remember is that there will likely never be the political will to reverse these rights. Conservatives need to accept that there will always be a collective dimension to Aboriginal issues, although some disagree. However, a new conservative vision will recognize that anything beyond these rights is illiberal and needs to be changed. Rights connected to lawful treaties can be seen to be just, but ‘rights’ created by government policies can be changed and they should be. Many Aboriginal policies were written in another century and are not helpful to indigenous people achieving self-reliance and autonomy now. Or, as Tom Flanagan put it, some of these judicial rulings make it increasingly difficult for Aboriginals to operate in a modern economy.[xi]

A new conservative vision should accept this reality and begin to work with it towards the goals of self-reliance for Aboriginal peoples. One possible change that could be made to constitutional Aboriginal rights is the interpretation of property rights. For example, the Delgamuukw decision in 1997 went a long way in entrenching collective Aboriginal property ownership. With the support of progressive chiefs and grassroots members, perhaps conservatives could work towards amending Section 35 to allow for individual property rights[xii].

Another important area are the number of court rulings affirming the right of Aboriginal people to be consulted and accommodated when resource companies attempt to develop their lands. This can be seen as lawful compensation for attempting to enter First Nation property and part of the right of contract. Often these rulings involve financial compensation or agreements guaranteeing employment to First Nation communities affected. These are important source of revenue for First Nation communities that can allow them to achieve independence. Conservative governments should ensure that appropriate consultation protocols are written up allowing resource companies to adequately consult with Aboriginals. With so many resources on Aboriginal lands, a conservative vision should support Aboriginals attempting to leverage these agreements to gain financial independence and thereby improve their communities. However, it should be cautioned that the “duty to consult” does not give First Nation communities a veto over development.

RESTRUCTURING ABORIGINAL GOVERNANCE

Rather than focus on things that will never change, conservatives should focus on items that can be changed. Unlike treaties or constitutional rights, the Indian Act is a federal statute that can be amended. For example, while the constitutional right to hunt out of season is treaty-based and will not change, policies such as the on-reserve exemption from income tax or many of the free benefits accruing to First Nations are government decisions and can be changed.

At no other time in Canadian history has there been such an opportunity to reform Aboriginal governance for the better, as both First Nation leadership and conservative leaders are calling for many of the same things. Aboriginal leaders, as well as grassroots band members, are becoming more aggressive in demanding change. More positively, their nationalist discourse has reached the point where many chiefs and Aboriginal leaders are realizing that economic self-reliance is central to any conception of self-government. Aboriginal authors like BC lawyer Calvin Helin are arguing, from within a First Nation perspective, that financial dependence on governments is what is destroying First Nations as peoples[xiii]. In his book Dances with Dependence, Helin calls for an Aboriginal glasnost, similar to the Soviet Union, when problems were discussed honestly. A new conservative vision must embrace this desire for change.

Historic numbers of band members are filing claims with Indian Affairs about financial irregularities within their band governments[xiv]. Aboriginal leaders like Chief Patrick Brazeau of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) are openly talking about dismantling the Indian Act and speaking about the inevitable post-Indian Act period. Anishinabek Nation Chief John Beaucage and many regional leaders are also not timid in their criticisms of the band governance system created by the colonial Indian Act.[xv]

At the same time, for decades conservative leaders and commentators have expressed their oppositions to the legislation and its restrictions.Adopted in the 19th century, the legislation’s paternalistic approach to governance should not be tolerated by a modern conservative government. It makes band chief and council responsible solely to the Indian Affairs bureaucracy, not to its members[xvi]. It makes all sorts of routine decisions subject to Indian Affairs approval and the number of regulatory obstacles it places in front of business investment and decisions are too numerous to name.

While previous Liberal governments adopted legislation such as the First Nations Land Management Act that make it easier to remove a band from under the Indian Act land use restrictions, the changes are only being adopted by a small minority of First Nations.

A new conservative approach would abandon this legislative framework entirely. It would demand nothing less than killing off the Indian Act completely. Powers should be placed back in the hands of First Nation communities. It also involves the gradual phasing-out of the Ministry of Indian Affairs and allowing First Nations to deliver their own services to their communities. Subject to the Charter and basic requirements of transparency and accountability, First Nation communities would be free to restructure their governance as they see fit. It would also be incumbent on governments to allow individual Aboriginals with the right to access economic prosperity through some kind of provision of private property rights.

While having control over their traditional treaty territories they would be free to structure their political relationships as they see fit. This is what the current system does not allow. It forces a particular definition of what it means to be indigenous on First Nations and it structures their governance against their will. Many will choose to maintain “tribal” distinctions and some may decide to embrace modernity. Some modern-oriented communities would opt to remain in a municipal-style relationship. Other communities would desire to recreate their traditional forms of governance, complete with some hereditary forms of authority and clan leadership. This also involves the right to adopt legal structures rooted in indigenous traditions, as long as they meet basic conditions of fairness and Charter rights. It could be conceivable that some communities could join together to recreate their historic cultural nation. For example, Chief Patrick Brazeau has argued that First Nations should have the right to join smaller tracts of land together to bring together, for example, the Algonquin Nation again.[xvii] A new conservative vision would not care what form the governments take, but would only look to ensure it is meeting its basic duties to its citizens.

Most importantly, by allowing First Nations to control their own political futures, they would then be expected to control their own economic destinies. Central to the new conservative vision would be an insistence on more economic self-reliance for First Nation communities. As they are given more control over their own politics and institutions, they would be expected to reduce their dependence on state transfers. That is the trade-off. By freeing these communities from the anti-capitalist restrictions of the Indian Act, these communities could begin to tax their own citizens and attract private investment. A new conservative vision would entail reminding Aboriginal peoples that if someone else controls the purse strings, they are controlling their destiny.

ENCOURAGING INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS AND CHOICE AMONG ABORIGINALS

One central area that needs to be addressed is the abysmal state of individual rights among First Nation citizens. This is the elephant in the room that is not going away. While rejecting the coercive parts of the White Paper, conservatives should support the classical liberal and progressive parts. It can be argued that most First Nations desire to live collectively on their ancestral lands, but this may change, and is changing through urbanization. Conservatives should support First Nations who choose to change. The individual is the most important moral unit in society and this includes the indigenous community. Conservatives should never allow laws or Aboriginal governments to oppress individuals in the name of “collective rights.”

Growing up on a reserve, one is subject to multiple layers of collective identity before one adequately is allowed to define oneself on an individual level. Take for example an Aboriginal growing up in Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba. Before finding his own identity, this individual is a member of Long Plain. He is a status Indian, defined with a treaty number by the Canadian government. He is also a member of the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council. Then he is a member of the Southern Chiefs Organization. Next, he is represented by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. Then, finally his community is represented by the Assembly of First Nations at the national level. Most of these bodies are elected solely by chiefs; individuals have no say in their appointment. Aboriginals should have the right to voluntarily remove themselves from these bodies and multiple identities.

The current Conservative government is helping this process by supporting legislation to remove the exemption for Indians to the Canada Human Rights Act. This bill, if passed without amendments, will create the first real buffer zone between Aboriginals and their leadership. Government should also help in ensuring that new Aboriginal systems of governance respect individual rights. On this matter, conservative governments need to stop listening to entrenched First Nation elites and start engaging individuals directly. If conservatives engaged grassroots people, they would find the support for individual rights protection. After all, previous reforms, such as the First Nations Governance Act, enjoyed majority grassroots support[xviii]. It was only when politicians started listening to elites that the courage to reform died. In the short term, conservatives also need to support democratic control of Aboriginal organizations, such as the Assembly of First Nations and the multitude of regional groups. They should no longer be chosen and controlled by chiefs. Grassroots members should choose the grand chief. Perhaps future Conservative governments could deny funding to these groups as long as their leadership is only chosen by chiefs.

Moving to cities is also creating greater individual rights and choice for Aboriginals. According to the latest census data, over 54 per cent of Aboriginals now live in urban centres, with 50 per cent being First Nation and 43 per cent being Metis[xix]. Many of these newcomers are given opportunities to secure gainful employment and private home ownership. These are not things given in their communities, where opportunities are limited and homes are owned collectively by band councils. They are also given the responsibility of having to pay rent, or file tax returns or participate in public life. They are also to live their lives without the watchful eye of band or community institutions. A new conservative vision would not prevent or necessarily encourage this movement. It would allow individuals to make their own choices. It should be recognized that many First Nations do not come equipped to deal with this new lifestyle, so government assistance in adapting to their new environment would be appropriate. Moreover, governments should assist these people but not provide them with the same exact benefits they would have had had they remained on-reserve. Rather, assistance should come in the form of aid in integrating.

RESPECTING ABORIGINAL CULTURE

Looked at within a classical liberal viewpoint, it was a statist colonial government that actively sought to assimilate Aboriginal peoples throughout Canadian history. For centuries, they were discouraged from speaking their own languages in private and from practicing their own traditions or spirituality. From a libertarian perspective, this is an unjustifiable use of the coercive powers of the state. The fact that Aboriginal families were torn apart by state authorities and had their children placed in residential schools far away from their traditional homes should be a disgusting fact of history for any liberty-respecting individual. It is shocking that so few prominent conservative leaders or writers recognize this or speak out against it. In fact, some conservatives have even become apologists for the residential school system, although it is clear that no conservative today defends in any way the abuse that happened in these places. The defunct Alberta Report wrote features that tried to discount some perceptions of the residential schools experience. While this is the case, it should be recognized that this issue is not black and white, as many First Nation individual did not have negative experiences at these schools. These dissident voices should not be ignored. But, this does not change the basic fact that the policies that created the schools were coercive.

It is not uncommon in private conversation to hear many right-leaning people express their tiredness of hearing the issue or stating their opinion that the schools were “really not that bad.” While it is certain that many Aboriginals (including AFN Chief Phil Fontaine) benefited from their education at these schools, it is inescapable that they were employed as state tools to “kill the Indian in the child,” and were places of unspeakable sexual and mental abuse for many. A renewed conservative vision, while recognizing that not all experiences were negative, would align itself with the view that the policies that created the residential schools system were wrong and would, on a strategic level, support the majority view within the First Nation community.

The current Conservative deserves credit for implementing the residential schools settlement, but must do much more to recognize the inter-generational effects of these institutions[xx]. After all, this isn’t ancient history, as some of them only closed a few decades ago.

A new conservative vision would recognize that the loss of many Aboriginal languages and cultural practices was not completely voluntary and was unjust. Many of these losses are the result of deliberate government machination or, in the case of residential schools, of intentionally cutting children off from their families and communities. Indigenous individuals should have the choice to regain their language, if they choose. It is a widely understood observation that an individual’s sense of self-esteem is connected to their cultural identity. People need to have a healthy sense of place to prosper psychologically. Many of the psycho-social problems plaguing Aboriginal communities are the result of this cultural disorientation. To become healthy again, indigenous communities need the opportunity to be able to choose whether to learn their languages again and practice their cultures. It is acknowledged by many indigenous writers, including Mohawk activist Taiaike Alfred, that before self-government can be achieved, individuals must experience a spiritual rebirth from within.[xxi]

Of course, how connected an Aboriginal person is to their historic culture is a matter of personal choice and conservatives would insist that any restructured indigenous governance not allow group cultural coercion.

Conservatives must allow indigenous people to recover their pathway to freedom through providing the tools of self-government and this principle is expressed within the conservative idea of subsidiarity, or the idea that government closest to home is the best able to govern. Conservative governments can help this process of rebirth by allowing indigenous communities to revive their languages and cultures. If First Nation communities want to hold their community meetings in Cree or post traffic signs in Ojibway, who are the federal or even provincial governments to disagree? Is this not an example of decentralized government in action? By devolving power to Aboriginal communities, they can then exercise their rights to pass legislation about indigenous language and culture. Of course, these laws must reflect majority will within these communities.

More controversially is the belief in constitutional recognition for Aboriginal languages. While recognizing the continuing controversy over bilingualism within the conservative community, it is now accepted that recognition of official languages is part of Canada’s historic identity as a way to recognize historical and demographic reality. Would it not make sense to recognize languages that are completely indigenous to this continent? Are these not the languages that one could argue really need the recognition? Allowing for constitutional protection of indigenous languages would be a historic step for conservatives in this country and would demonstrate to them that conservatives care about their identity and oppose state attempts to destroy their culture again. However, it should be stated that this is not a carte blanche for government funding of these languages. First Nation communities themselves would be responsible for language preservation, as it only through community will that a language can survive.

THE NEW ZEALAND MODEL OF INDIGENOUS EMPOWERMENT

A renewed conservative vision can look to other models for success for indigenous peoples in other countries. A recent study of indigenous peoples in four developed countries (Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand) has confirmed that some indigenous peoples are doing better than others[xxii]. While it shows progress in many areas, it also is sobering in showing that all indigenous peoples still lag behind non-indigenous populations. One particular observation is how well the New Zealand Maoris are doing. With the highest median incomes among populations and one of the fastest improving educational attainments, the Maori are improving[xxiii]. While the Maoris do not live on reserves as in Canada, they represent a model of improvement that can be applied to Canada. Since 1984, there has been a movement among Maoris towards reduced state dependency, devolution, and privatization. This shift towards the market economy, however, also involved a greater political independence, tribal self-government and increased service delivery by Maoris to Maoris. In other words, increased economic self-reliance never came at the expense of political self-government. In fact, it seemed to enhance it. Maoris have access to total immersion schools and tribal universities. Most importantly, they also represent (in 2006) about 22 members of parliament in New Zealand. The difference is that New Zealand cannot afford the large cash transfers to its indigenous peoples that Canada sustains. Maoris must make due with one time payments of cash and assets from treaty settlements. They must then make them earn revenue.

A study in 2003 even confirmed that Maoris contributed more to the tax base than accepted in fiscal transfers and that their economy was even more valuable than the non-Maori economy[xxiv]. Clearly, the Maori demonstrate to Canadian conservatives that self-reliance and political autonomy go hand in hand with economic improvement.

CONCLUSION

A new conservative vision for Aboriginals must embrace the political autonomy and recognition of history that Aboriginal peoples demand, while respecting calls for economic self-reliance from conservatives. To assure First Nations, new conservatives must demonstrate that they are support constitutional Aboriginal rights and recognize the indigenous desire to reclaim political space to solve their own problems. Conservatives must also understand that treatment of Aboriginal peoples, including the residential schools, is contrary to classical liberal principles, even if some students benefitted, as the policies were coercive in execution. Instead, conservatives should join with progressive chiefs and grassroots Aboriginals in restructuring Aboriginal governance, including eliminating the Indian Act and the Ministry of Indian Affairs. Conservatives should allow traditional forms of governance, as long as they respect accountability and transparency. Aboriginals must also be led to understand that political autonomy comes with economic self-reliance. Removing the Indian Act means First Nations will be expected to raise their own revenues. By looking to models such as the New Zealand Maori, it can also be seen that Canadian indigenous peoples can achieve economic improvement through reduced state dependency.


  1. For the sake of this essay, Aboriginal typically refers to Canadian indigenous peoples in general (“Indians”) or when referring to the Constitution, “Aboriginal” can refer to First Nation, Metis or Inuit. It should be stated that whenever First Nation or indigenous is used, it is referring to status Indians, or Indians on reserves, not Metis or Inuit.
  2. Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band turned a British Columbia reserve from near-bankruptcy to an oasis of opportunity. About ten years ago, it received more federal transfer dollars than its self-generated revenue. Now, it produces seven times the revenue it receives from the federal government and it administers its own health and social services. It has also invested in many business opportunities. Louie also has shown intolerance for idleness. He is famous for his signs over the band office with words like “real warriors hold a job,” and other politically incorrect messages.
  3. Taiaike Alfred, Wasase: Indigenous Pathways of action and freedom (Broadview Press, 2005)
  4. Calvin Helin, Dances with Dependency: Indigenous Success through Self-Reliance (Orca Spirit Publishing and Communication, 2006)
  5. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has led the charge to end special status for First Nations. While admirable, it is impossible in our constitutional framework to make Aboriginals the exact same as other Canadians without ignoring the treaties.
  6. Treaties should be seen as legitimate ‘contracts’ within the classical liberal tradition. According to libertarian theory, property can only be transferred legitimately through initial acquisition or through lawful transfer. Libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick argued that some people acquire property by means not sanctioned by the principle of justice in acquisition. Acquiring sovereignty over North America without the consent of Aboriginal peoples would constitute an unjust acquisition.
  7. While Free Dominion is an excellent news site for conservatives, on Aboriginal issues it sometimes reveals the lack of full understanding of treaties. On many threads, members repeat the old refrain that Aboriginals need to be treated just like everyone else and not have any benefits. This sentiment, however, neglects treaties and constitutional Aboriginal and treaty rights.
  8. The right of ‘discovery’ cannot be asserted as there were already people here who exercised some forms of sovereignty over the territories, although no one denies that Canada has sovereignty over this land. Conservatives should look to Nozick who makes a good case for rectifying this original unjust acquisition of property. He allows for a principle of rectifying “injustice in holdings.” Treaties are the means to make this initial unjust assertion correct.
  9. Aboriginal leaders have now converted conservative theorist Tom Flanagan into a persona non grata for his arguments regarding European assumptions of sovereignty over North American Indians. During the last few elections, they have criticized Stephen Harper for his association with Flanagan. This is unfair as Flanagan’s arguments do not differ from mainstream anthropology which divides cultures along civilized and uncivilized lines.
  10. Tom Flanagan, First Nations? Second Thoughts (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000)
  11. Flanagan, p. 130-132
  12. Currently First Nation reserves allow individual property ownership through certificates of possession or through customary law. However, these protections are still subject to band council or the Minister of Indian Affairs, and can be taken away. To avoid dividing up reserve lands, some ideas suggested include a property registry only within the community so land does not become alienated to non-band members. An interim idea, before opening up reserves to full-scale private property, is to allow individual communities the right to choose if they want to adopt full private ownership or stay with some forms of collective control.
  13. Helin, ibid
  14. From 2002-2004, the Department of Indian Affairs reported 984 allegations of criminal or complaints of non-criminal wrongdoings by First Nation government bodies or organizations.
  15. http://www.anishinabek.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=234&Itemid=47
  16. While band chief and councillors taken an oath to represent their communities, most of the financial reporting requirements (such as budgets and financial statements) is to Indian Affairs.
  17. http://www.edo.ca/datamodules/news/show/6_327
  18. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_go1630/is_200407/ai_n6294865
  19. Census data contained in Canada.com news story: http://www.canada.com/topics/news/story.html?id=dec67428-c39c-4fbe-b26a-b3af3b193258
  20. As an editor of an Aboriginal publication for two years, I have heard many stories related to residential schools. I have also seen how these experiences have adversely affected parenting within First Nation families, as many children were themselves removed from parental influences while growing up.
  21. Taiaike Alfred, Wasase: Indigenous Pathways of action and freedom
  22. Martin Cooke, Francis Mitrou, David Lawrence, Eric Guimond and Dan Beavon “Indigenous well-being in four countries: An application of the UNDP’S Human Development Index to Indigenous Peoples in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States” in BMC International Health and Human Rights 2007, 7:9
  23. The median income of Maori in 2001 was $23,024, as compared to the comparable median income of $29,756 for the non-Maori population. Among all four indigenous populations, this was the smallest gap as compared to the non-indigenous population. In Canada, the median income for Aboriginals in 2001 was $18,713, as compared to the non-Aboriginal median income of $27,617.
  24. Maori Economic Development – Te Ohanga Whanaketanga Maori, New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, 2003.

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