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Self Government

In recent years, there has been an effort on the part of provincial and federal governments and Aboriginal Nations communities to work together to ensure that the needs of Aboriginal Peoples are more closely met and that Aboriginal culture is preserved and maintained. First Nations communities, in Alberta and nationwide, hope to regain the control that was systematically taken away from them over the years (largely through the restrictive and assimilation-driven Indian Act) by forming self-sufficient, sustainable self governments. The issues that surround self government are at the forefront of the agenda for many Aboriginal communities today.

The key to creating a successful deal lies in recognizing that Alberta’s First Nations and Métis communities possess an inherent right to self government that existed long before the arrival of outside governments. The understanding of Section 35 (1) of the Constitution Act of 1982 as providing an avenue for the inherent right to self government is echoed in the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP). If self government was restored, in effect, Aboriginal communities would be re-forming their own sovereign states and dealing with the Canadian government nation-to-nation. Because of the complexity of this issue, the current negotiations are placing less focus on this side of the debate, and are instead focusing more on the many organizational processes that must be put into effect for the plan itself to work.

For self governments to function seamlessly, the division of responsibility between the provincial, federal, and Aboriginal governments must first be determined and organized accordingly. For example, Aboriginal governments would administer to their own social and economic needs and have control over areas such as education, health and wellness, marriage, property rights and land management, taxation, housing, local transportation, or welfare. In addition, as self governing bodies, communities would have control over their government structures, constitutions, leadership processes, and membership. The elected governments would represent their communities in provincial, national, and international affairs.

The provincial and federal governments would maintain control over laws that go beyond individual communities. This includes matters of national security, criminal justice, and external relations, as well as issues such as divorce and overall economy. In case of conflict, Canadian laws would prevail, though negotiations would take place when necessary. 1

An example of self government that has been accomplished through legislative means is the Sechelt Indian Band. In May of 1986, the Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act was passed this Act established the Band as a legal entity. Thus, it had the power to enter contracts; acquire, sell and dispose of property; and spend, invest and borrow money. This Band also created its own constitution, governing structure, membership code, legislative power and financial accountability. This stands as only one example within the Canadian context.

As seen in the Sechelt Indian Band, the push towards successful and sustainable self government has taken root in Aboriginal communities across Alberta. First Nations are developing their own laws and have elected their own governments to oversee the concerns of their people, often mixing traditional and modern governing techniques. Elders attend band meetings to offer advice to the Chief and council, and their opinions are respected and taken into account when decisions are made. The most vital issue is to work towards sustainable and self-sufficient communities. The hope for renewal and healing between First Nations and Canadian governments depends on it.


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