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Photo Credit: Ted Whitecalf
First Nation peoples have always exercised their own forms of governance. While it is easy to reflect on the past and trace the development of Indian Government over the past few decades; it is much harder to answer the question, "What will Indian Government look like in the future?"
As Saskatchewan First Nations set out their self-determining journey to re-establish genuine First Nations self-government through new governance and fiscal arrangements, we need a common understanding of what the destination might look like. At FSIN, the Office of the Treaty Governance Processes (TGP) a vision paper is taking shape. TGP is working to develop common understandings that will form the basis of that future vision of First Nations in Saskatchewan.
In an interview with TGP Executive Director, Rick Gamble, he commented: "We should have had this process or vision 125 years ago when the Treaties were signed. Instead the Federal government tried both to exterminate and assimilate First Nations peoples by the imposition of policies with those end objectives. 125 years later the federal government is cognizant, the Treaties are substantial and enduring agreements that need to be realized."
Gamble talked about how the process is set up, "We have four "tables" or forums. The bilateral table is where the federal government and FSIN explore Treaties and the Treaty relationship. That's the Treaty Table. We also have a Common Table (FSIN, Canada, Saskatchewan). The province participates in these negotiations because it recognizes First Nations in Saskatchewan have an inherent right to claim and assume their jurisdictional capacity in the various sectors of governance as their First Nations governments evolve. The Governance and Fiscal Relations Tables were created next. These tables work collectively to establish new governance and fiscal relations amongst Canada, Saskatchewan, and First Nations."
A Framework Agreement is being developed through discussion with Federal and Provincial authorities. This all began with an agreement signed on October 31, 1996 which created the forum for developing new structures and arrangements for First Nations Self Government in Saskatchewan.
Only the Federal government officials and First Nation officials participate at the Treaty table reflecting the two original partners to Treaty. The provincial government officials sit at this table as observers only.
Gamble emphasized, "it's fitting that the Governance and Fiscal Relations Tables get their direction from the Treaty Table. As the elders often point out to us, it's the "boss table." The Treaty Table is where Canada and First Nations authorities work toward common understandings on the Treaty rights and or jurisdictions in Education, Child and Family Services, Shelter, Health, Annuities, Hunting, Fishing, Trapping and Gathering, Land and Resources, and Justice."
Part of the process at the Treaty Table is developing "Treaty context papers," Gamble explained: "This includes hearing from the elders and their oral evidence, obtaining direction from the FSIN Commissions, getting feedback and having detailed discussions on each sector topic. There drafts, revisions, reviews, and then discussions at the Treaty Table before papers move forward. The pattern is the same for each sector. For example, in education, the parties followed this process and once they were satisfied that the paper on "education in the treaty context" was complete, it was referred from the Treaty Table to the Common Table."
"Treaty Table is where the "terms of reference" for Treaty rights are affirmed through the involvement of elders, chiefs, senators, and technicians of the FSIN. It must be noted that they are not re-negotiating our Treaties but we are coming up with contemporary and common understandings of our Treaty rights in the eight different sectors."
The Treaty Commissioner facilitates the Treaty Table discussions and remits reports to the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs and to the Chief of the FSIN. In turn, these guiding documents go from the Minister and Chief to negotiators at the Governance and Fiscal Relations Tables.
Over the past two years the parties at the Governance and Fiscal Relations Tables have explored and discussed a range of governance and fiscal issues related to the future of First Nations' governance in Saskatchewan.
The Province of Saskatchewan is signatory to the Framework Agreement and participates at the Governance and Fiscal Tables because they occupy the jurisdictional fields First Nations will eventually occupy at the end of the process. The framework will lead to a province wide self-government arrangement for First Nations in Saskatchewan. It will effectively establish a "third order of Government." Canada, Saskatchewan, and First Nations will then be partners in interjurisdictional arrangements and agreements.
The future vision includes First Nation's laws being recognized by the other jurisdictions. This translates into a rebirth of First Nations' governments that will be required to re-establish their own laws, regulations,
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The establishment of a "third level of Government" will require each First Nation to consider including a "forward delegation clause" in their constitution. This will enable First Nations to work collectively with the Tribal Councils, District Chiefs, Agency Chiefs and the FSIN on issues of common interest.
As Gamble commented, "The concept of a "forward delegation" isn't a new concept. An example of its manifestation is the establishment of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College. It made good sense, because we can't have a university for each First Nation. So the First Nations of Saskatchewan essentially "forward delegated" their authority in education to their respective Tribal Councils, District Chiefs or Agency Chiefs. The authority was then "forward delegated" to the FSIN Education and Training Development Commission, who then "forward delegated" to the Chiefs-in Assembly which in turn lead to the establishment of SIFC."
The concept reflects the willingness and desire of all First Nations in Saskatchewan to work collectively toward a common goal. The Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre, and the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority, are also positive results of "forward delegation."
Access to resources and tools to generate opportunities for contribution to the economy of Saskatchewan is key. Having these tools will provide First Nations with social and economic conditions comparable to the non-First Nations communities. This will generate positive growth not only in the First Nation community but also for the Province of Saskatchewan.
The Fiscal Relations Table has a working group that has compiled data on First Nations' expenditures and demographics. A statistical unit has been established as part of the foundation for new fiscal relations and models of funding mechanisms are developed.
The implementation of this new governance system, once accepted by a First Nation, will follow a "staging-in" process.
"Staging" will reflect the First Nation's community priorities and capacities. It could take two, three, or more generations before we see full control over jurisdiction on any all sectors of First Nations' government.
The issues of increased jurisdiction First Nations will depend on the community's capacity to take over, and the willingness of the Provincial and or Federal government to vacate certain fields of jurisdiction in favor of the First Nation. This reflects the need for a "framework for negotiations" which the Governance and Fiscal Tables have developed.
In short, the rules for negotiation after the comprehensive agreement-in-principle has been signed, are in place. It means a, parties agree to play by the same rules. The actual negotiation by First Nations Government begins a new era in our Nation to Nation relationship. The Framework for negotiation is a clear indication all parties agree the development of Indian self-government is an evolutionary, incremental process.
This is not your typical imposed government process where DIAND hands First Nations a blueprint for self-determination New fiscal arrangements between governments are needed and will need to embody the principles o fiscal equity, comparability of pro grams and services, accountability affordability and stability. The path to self-government, while honoring Treaty obligations, will be specific to the needs of its First Nation peoples and will require First Nation endorsement. This approach will ensure development of a new government system recognizes and affirms the unique traditions, history, and culture of First Nations. Any new governance system will need to reflect these qualities and confirm the First Nation community is the basic unit of governance.