The Inherent Right to SelfGovernment
Draw / colour the flag
Historical Context
Before Europeans settled in Canada centuries
ago, Aboriginal people governed themselves in
organized societies. Each nation of Aboriginal
people had its own territories and councils of
chiefs. They were governed by oral
constitutions. The ability to recount laws,
traditions and histories was important to keep
the peace. As with any human institutions, those
of Aboriginal societies had evolved and changed
over time, and would have continued to do so
given the opportunity.
In the early years of
contact, Europeans
recognized that
Aboriginal societies
truly were
independent nations.
That recognition
almost disappeared
during the next two
centuries, and
resurfaced only in the
By the 1970s, Aboriginal
activists had forced the
federal government to
consider the idea of
Aboriginal self-government.
But the government viewed
self-government as a gift to
be bestowed (meaning to
give) by Canada on
Aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal
peoples rejected that
viewpoint, asserting that they
had an inherent right to
govern themselves.
An inherent right is a right that
automatically belongs to people, rather
than a gift that people receive.
What is the message here? Is it
positive or negative?
Aboriginal people argued that their right to
self-government existed because their
societies historically had been organized
and self-ruling. Today, Aboriginal leaders
are insisting that the Canadian
Constitution should be changed to include
the inherent right of Aboriginal peoples to
govern themselves.
Side Note:
Do you think
Mi’kmaw wore
head dresses
like this one
before contact?
Traditionally Mi’kmaw
men would have worn
something similar to
this – can you
imagine running
through NS forests
with the other type of
head dress on. That
type of head dress
came from the Plains
Natives – where there
were no trees.
1a) Explain the term “inherent right to selfgovernment.”
b) Do you think self-government is a good idea?
Making Self-government a
Context: Self-government means that
Aboriginal peoples would have/will control
such matters as social services, health
care, education, resource development,
culture, language and justice. As well, First
Nations bands will decide who can join the
band and how band government will be
With the
implementation of the
Indian Act in the late
1800s, Aboriginal
peoples across the
country lost their
ability to govern
Something that had been so intrinsic (natural
and important) and relevant to who they were
and how they oversaw the needs of their
communities, was taken from them, and with it,
their ability to respond to the moment. Their
independence and liberty to deal with what life
throws in their direction was lost. They were to
become limited in ability and dependent on
Ottawa for their existence. Great concern was
expressed over this.
In advocating Aboriginal self-government,
many questions have been asked in trying
to decide what Aboriginal self-government
may look like. What form will it take on?
Everything from a House of First Peoples
(an Aboriginal parliament) to applying selfgovernment to the 60 to 80 historical
Aboriginal nations in Canada, reflecting
the different traditions of separate nations.
Both Aboriginal
people and nonAboriginal people
agree that any hope
for change depends
on Aboriginal
peoples gaining
more control over
their lives,
specifically through
2. Why do so many Aboriginal peoples
want self-government today? Provide two
Concerns About Selfgovernment
Concerns about self-government include:
the power of chiefs and councils; the rights
of women; the situation of Aboriginal
people not living on Aboriginal owned land;
the situation of non-Aboriginal people
living on land that becomes part of an
Aboriginal nation through land claims
Conceived Concerns & Issues:
In many communities that are moving
toward self-government, the chief and
council have total control of finances and
administration. The challenge for
communities will be to create a
government with checks and balances to
guard against misuse of administration
Recent Headlines
• 'Corrupt practices' in Shubenacadie
band election’ CBC
• ‘Shubenacadie band questioned about
$277K cheque’ CBC
Some Aboriginal women worry that, as
citizens of Aboriginal nations, the Charter
of Rights and Freedoms will not protect
them. The challenge will be to create
systems that give women a voice and
protect them against abuse and
Who will have jurisdiction (meaning
responsibility) for Aboriginal peoples who
do not live on reserves?
Creating systems of government is one of
the most challenging tasks humans face.
For Aboriginal nations, consultation
(discussion and open dialog) and the
determination to change the systems that
have failed them will be important steps in
achieving self-government throughout
3a) Identify three concerns about selfgovernment. Are they fair? Explain.
b) What are some concerns you have as a
Canadian citizen?
c) Create a political cartoon highlighting
one or more of the issues you identified.
Use white paper
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