In 1969 the Canadian government under Pierre Trudeau put forth a policy paper proposal titled the 1969 White Pater Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy. The intent of the policy was to eliminate not only the Indian Act but also all treaties in existence at that time. The policy was intended to be put into effect as legislation and was designed to eliminate Indian Status, do away with Reserve lands, incorporate First Nations people under the responsibility of provincial governments, and impose the provincial laws of private property upon First Nations communities. The ultimate effect of the White Paper proposal would be to terminate all special programs and benefits unique to Indigenous groups and to remove their special status.
In the face of extreme opposition from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons in the 1970s the proposal never went ahead. A widespread sentiment was that the White Paper was not so much trying to bring a “just” result to Indigenous people as it was trying to avoid admitting to the historical wrongdoings of the Canadian government and evading the historical promises the Canadian government had made to Indigenous groups. In essence, many Indigenous people viewed the White Paper as yet another attempt by the Canadian government to assimilate Aboriginal persons into the euro-centric culture of Canada, similar in intent to the Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop.
While the White Paper proposal was never reduced to legislation, the current government under Justin Trudeau recently sought to replace current treaty and self-government policies in changes that many outside of government were referring to as White Paper 2.0. This new legal framework was intended to be rushed into effect prior to the October 2019 Federal Elections and sought to force Nations under the Indian Act into “self-government” agreements. However, many Nations, having reviewed the policy papers have pointed to the potential reality that this framework, in actuality, aims to extinguish Indigenous rights, and enter into new agreements that would effectively remove Indigenous rights and turn First Nations into municipalities, or an even lower “fourth level of government”. Many would say this is a surprising development in light of the Truth and Reconciliation Findings and the Apologies that have been provided, which accept and recognize the historical wrongs that have occurred when Indigenous Rights have been interfered with.
While the policy is promoted as implementing a system whereby First Nations are not required to curtail or extinguish rights for modern treaty deals or self-government agreements with the Federal Government, the Federal Government has been seen by many as trying to push the policy through without comprehensive engagement with all interested groups or individuals. In the face of concerns that the negotiations are intended to have Indigenous groups fully trade in their “inherent rights” for those rights that are delegated by the Government and derived from section 35 of the Constitution Act, the very short timeline that was put into place by the Federal Government was seen by some as trying to force through control over First Nations groups. Others, recognizing these concerns, also saw the attempts of the government to move so rapidly to be lacking wisdom, particularly given the scope of the changes to the effects and rights of self-determination, Aboriginal Title and Rights, and pre-confederation Treaty rights.
Ultimately, the Federal Government, in the face of mounting opposition and protests from First Nations groups, has stayed the implementation of the policy changes to allow a refocus instead on drafting directive changes to federal negotiators. Nonetheless, the new Indigenous Rights Framework has not been reworked or sent back for reconsideration – only stalled. Given the Yellowhead Institute’s finding that the Framework, in whole, is premised on an ongoing neglect of the government’s treaty obligations and the domestication of First Nation “self-governance” under Canadian Confederation, if the Federal Government is serious about changing the engagement with First Nations, it is clear that those First Nations individuals who are attempting to engage need to be listened to.
At Mincher Koeman we understand the implications these proposals can have on a number of matters impacting Aboriginal People, particularly as it relates to the rights of Indigenous groups to protect and preserve their family units and how changes at any level of engagement with the Federal Government can have impacts on service delivery and existing agreements for funding and services with both the Provincial and Federal governments.