After the general federal election in October 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s party became the government. Observers say that the electoral success was due, in part, to a promise to renew “a nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership” (Mandate Letters). Since then, executives across the federal government have been working towards realizing this promise.
Of course, this promise came from a shared desire to renew our efforts towards collectively building a better future. In many ways, this is always the task of the executive: to seize the possibility that a future can be created, rather than accept an unsatisfying past. Imperfect origins needn’t stunt development; in fact, they make development possible.
How then, do executives accomplish the goal of putting this promise into practice with Indigenous partners? Let me propose some starting principles:
Respect and recognition: Until we collectively acknowledge the formative nature of Indigenous traditions in Canada, we will never fully achieve our potential as a nation. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that no country can ever reach its fullest potential without dignity for all.
Revisiting commonly held conceptions: On matters of our governance structure and systems, land and environment, sharing of authorities, reconciliation, redress and recognition of rights, continued and thoughtful change is still required. The scope of that change will challenge those comfortable with the status quo.
Thinking of ourselves more broadly as a country of nations: How do we achieve a harmonization of sovereignty such that we can function as one country of many founding nations? How do we adequately and appropriately recognize each founding nation in the fabric of this country? How do we leverage this for our continued and increasing diversity?
Establishing partnerships inspired by treaties: The establishment of the Edéhzhíe Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area – done in partnership between the Dehcho First Nations and Canada – is an example of how you work from the inspiration of treaties and co-manage the land and wildlife in a modern Canada.
Compromise by all parties: Have we opened our minds to the need for compromise? Are we carefully steering clear of extremism and negativity – the clear enemies of progress and agreement – in our project to build a more just Canada? One thing should be clear to us by now: Compromise is a self-evident part of achieving a shared future.
Formalized sharing mechanisms: Embedded in the treaties is the notion of sharing. A more just and equitable future means some kind of institutionalized sharing of the country’s wealth. The Government of the Northwest Territories’ Resource Revenue Sharing Agreement is an excellent example to consider. Could other such funds offer Canada a solution?
Forming shared histories: Some have proposed that the 1764 Treaty of Niagara might more appropriately be regarded as Canada’s first Confederation. As the Canada 150 controversy demonstrates, we should discuss and determine with Indigenous partners what our shared history is and how we should celebrate it.
Putting our best selves forward: The path towards common ground will require openness and creativity. Only by putting our best selves forward – both Indigenous and
An act of commitment to the new Canada and a shared future: Critically, a majority of us need to formally commit – perhaps through a Royal Proclamation – to a new future. While not everyone will get on board, an act of commitment is key because we must collectively bear the responsibility and undertake this important work in partnership – the only way progress will be achieved.
Charting what an appropriate future might be will involve some really tough discussions, and it will inevitably include many a disagreement. Today more than ever, we must remind ourselves of Barack Obama’s wise call to be able to “disagree without being disagreeable.” Now more than ever, we must show an ability and commitment to translating criticism into positive paths forward. In doing so, let justice and pragmatism be our guiding lights. Without either, we are lost.
This country will never be perfect, but nothing should prevent us from building a more harmonious coordination of peoples and interests. It is up to us to build the country we want and not simply accept the country we’ve inherited. A better Canada awaits us, and if we seize this moment with our Indigenous partners, we can make it so.