New modern treaty implementation policy to bring federal public servants in line

Wednesday, March 1st, 2023 10:21am



The new policy’s goal is “advancing a systemic shift in the federal public service’s institutional culture, reflected in behaviour, decision-making, and actions at every level of the federal government.”
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Where modern treaty holders appear to have confidence in Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller to work with them, they don’t seem to have the same trust in federal public servants.

The new Canada Collaborative Modern Treaty Implementation Policy announced Feb. 28 could make a difference.

“We are appreciative that we have this policy and we hope that it means we spend less time educating the federal public service about the shared agreements that we have all agreed to,” said Aluki Kotierk, president of the Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and a co-chair of the Land Claims Agreement Coalition (LCAC).

The announcement came on the first day of a two-day conference on modern treaties hosted by LCAC in Ottawa.

Kotierk and co-chair Eva Clayton, president of Nisga’a Nation, joined Miller to announce the new implementation policy that had been co-developed with the LCAC, modern day treaty partners, and the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee through the summer and fall last year.

Miller echoed the concerns voiced by Kotierk.

“It’s also very frustrating at the ministerial level to be talking about particular clauses that should be instituted as a matter of muscle memory,” said Miller.

He added that government machinery is not free of systemic racism and sometimes decisions that are made are “nefarious or evil in nature.”

Miller blamed the “very active tool” of ignorance, fear and a “financial interest in this country in maintaining the status quo.”

“Given the time it’s taken, I think you can probably draw the conclusion there are still people around (that)…don’t have the interest of Indigenous peoples at heart,” he said.  

Clayton said the LCAC has been facing challenges for the 20 years it has been in operation advocating for the common interests of modern treaty holders.

Kotierk said the hope generated after a modern treaty has been agreed upon has always been followed quickly by frustration as implementation drags. That frustration turns into mistrust, she added.

Nisga’a Nation signed its modern treaty with Canada and British Columbia 23 years ago and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. signed the Nunavut Agreement 30 years ago.

There are 26 Nations that have modern treaties. These treaties are usually tripartite and include the province or territory. The first modern treaty, signed in 1977, was the James Bay Cree and Northern Quebec Agreement. More than 70 Indigenous groups are currently negotiating modern treaties.

The treaties address such issues as ownership and use of land, water, and natural resources; environmental protection and assessment; economic development; and self-government and public government arrangements.

The new implementation policy provides clear direction to federal public servants and deputy heads that they “must understand and meet their obligations, roles, and responsibilities in fulfilling Canada’s treaty obligations, advancing treaty objectives, and strengthening intergovernmental relationships.”

Its specific goal, states the policy, is “advancing a systemic shift in the federal public service’s institutional culture, reflected in behaviour, decision-making, and actions at every level of the federal government. This will support the full, effective, and timely implementation of all modern treaties in Canada.”

The policy also sets out a distinctions-based approach to modern treaties and establishes an intergovernmental policy circle, which will provide the space for collaborative efforts between the federal government and modern treaty holders on implementation challenges, and legislative, policy, and program initiatives.

The implementation model also calls for a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the coming months.

“(We will) discuss how we can be better treaty partners, be better partners generally, and ensure that we live up to the commitment that we’ve made and deliver on our shared and common priorities,” said Miller.

Over the next six months an independent oversight and accountability mechanism will be co-developed.

Clayton said she was pleased with the six-month timeframe to establish the oversight body, which meant the policy wouldn’t be “put on the shelf” like so many other polices.

“The implementation policy, it’s not the end of the road. It’s a framework to build upon relationships with the federal government. It’s a framework to improve relationships as we move forward in implementing modern day treaties,” said Clayton.

“Canada will continue to collaborate with our modern treaty partners to ensure we are living up to the spirit and intent of the treaties and that’s something, as part of that (implementation) policy, we will do today,” said Miller.

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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.