Canada’s 10 “Principles Respecting”

Canada’s 3 R’s: Rights, Recognition and Reconciliation.

Did anyone see this coming?

The Department of Justice’s “10 Principles Respecting the Government of Canada’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples” was posted two weeks ago today with and to precisely zero fanfare.

More philosophy than policy, more academic pronouncement than government announcement, is the muted response due to something more than a middle-of-summer issuance date?

The fact is that there is over 150 years of an oddly-Canadian type of often well-intentioned but blundering colonialism reflected in the Principles. The question is, if the Principles are the blueprint for the next 150 years of the relationship between Canada’s settlers and Indigenous peoples, where are they taking us? The answer, given the sheer profundity of the principles, is painfully obscure. And this, we think, explains the stunned silence.

Does anyone know what the Principles actually mean?

The Principles require a lot of unpacking. And we mean that both intellectually and practically. Section 35 of the Constitution and the UNDRIP are not light fare.

Neither is it easy to explain to a Canadian public that has been raised on denial of the shame of a subtle but brutal colonial system that produces social, health and economic outcomes comparable to the third world for a whole segment of our population. And a racial divide at least as stark as the black/white dichotomy of our neighbours to the south.

And what about the mighty inertia of INAC and other federal departments and agencies? The Principles expressly call for fundamental changes to the way these organizations relate to First Nations and Indigenous peoples.

How possible is this? And what does it mean? How does a bureaucracy steeped in a colonial paradigm that it sees as, at worst, benign become the agency that dismantles that colonialism and guides us all into a post-colonial era?

A call to action from the Federal Government?

Then, finally, there is the call to First Nations themselves to “start taking themselves seriously”. We have worked intimately with First Nations in BC for more than a decade and we have profound respect for the strength and resilience of the Indigenous people we have the privilege to know.

But to expect over 600 nations of all sizes and capacities, each battered and beaten by 150 years of debilitating colonial rule, many in constant crisis mode, all of them chronically underfunded to step up as equal partners in nation-to-nation negotiations may be Pollyanna-ism in the extreme.

How important might the principles be for all of us?

Yes, the Principles are a starting point, not the solution itself. But the Principles, as the starting point, are defining the way forward. Because of this, we believe all of us need to examine closely and critically what the Principles actually say.

Do they paint the future we (both Indigenous and settler peoples) want to see? If they are a call to action, what actions are those? Do they make practical sense and present concepts that can be implemented, or are they just a statement of what should be?

Let’s talk about the 3 R’s.

In a series of 10 posts over the next 10 weeks examining each of the 10 Principles in the BC context we will explore these and other questions. We want to probe and try to understand the meaning and implications of the Principles for Indigenous-settler relations in the future. But most of all we hope to inspire conversation about the Principles.

Our fundamental belief is that it is dialogue that will bring an end to colonialism in Canada and establish, at last, a society that properly recognizes and realizes the rights of Indigenous peoples.

The 10 Principles are based what we are calling “the 3 R’s” – Rights, Recognition and Reconciliation. We want to examine the principles in the context of these concepts. They provide us with a way to review and assess the Principles and make judgments about their value.

There is, of course, one more “R” – Relationship. An outcome rather than a fundamental concept, we believe that a truly functional, mutually-beneficial relationship between Canada’s Indigenous and settler peoples should be both the modus operandi and the ultimate goal of the Principles.

Do you agree? Let us know what you think. And we cordially invite you to join us on a 10-week journey to discover if this is the future Canada the 10 Principles are launching us to discover. 

Please share your thoughts on these questions – leave a comment below!

Next: Principle 1: Recognition.

4 Replies to “Canada’s 10 “Principles Respecting””

  1. Yun Ke Ni says:

    It is so important that 3Rs being profoundly raised as a topic for discussion. Yes, we have talked about these 3 for so long in the past and apparently we will talk about these 3 for very long in the future. The relationship between Canada’s settlers and indigenous peoples was the beginning point and also will be the final result we can exam how the principles work.

    I do agree that principles are a starting point, not the solution itself. For any relationship to be worked out, effective communication is a must. In this case, how to equally communicate between Canada’s settlers and indigenous peoples can be real challenge. In my experience, both sides do not have exact same understanding about many things and 3Rs are among them.

    Well-established principals are great to have and I wish they can be efficiently implemented in practice and create better basis for future communication.

  2. Mark Selman says:

    The three Rs are important. If I was to add a fourth R it would not be “Relationships” but “Results.” In my view, the significance of relationships is already built into the notion of reconciliation. Relationships are the foundation of change. I am not questioning that. I just believe that that is implied by any sensible definition of reconciliation. But creating some momentum for change requires results — actual changes on the ground that create new opportunities, new and better houses, better educational outcomes, more resources for health and social programs managed by Indigenous people, and so on. Principles are important and so is dialogue, but action is also critical. The history of colonization has been a history of broken promises and commitments not followed through on. More commitments, more promises and more talk may be required, but there is no reason they cannot be accompanied by action. I think we could learn something from Australia where they have developed “Reconciliation Action Plans” that organizations commit to and then measure themselves against and report out publicly about.
    So, I am interested in this potential dialogue, but only if it connects to collective action for change, change that leads to results that matter.

  3. Leon Erickson says:

    I would like to refrain from commenting on the Three R’s until more information is gathered.
    In the meantime I do have questions:

    1) Despite natives being the domain of the Federal department- why are they not allowed to vote for Mayor and Council in the town they spend most of their money and do most of their commerce?

    2) Many businesses are encouraged to have a percent of First Nations employees. Why does this not apply to Senate? To the federal board of Cabinet minister appointees? If not a minister- then why not an added office- the First Nation Liaison?

    3) why does the First Nation representation not receive “equal representation’ in the house of commons?

    I have more questions about politics but these ones have been playing on my mind of late.

  4. Steven Francis says:

    Interesting endeavour, encouraging a dialogue related to the 10 Principles released by the Department of Justice, earlier this year. Being the cynic that I am, I have to wonder if the Justice Department in releasing these Principles is simply gauging the appetite and mood for any change (i.e. a potential future Indigenous Policy that can only be binding on the federal government – until there is a change) in the relationship between Indigenous [Aboriginal People – First Nation, Metis and Inuit] and the Crown [itself] knowing that the Aboriginal voting population is not significant enough to jeopardize not more than a few federal Liberal seats in Ottawa and can be viewed as trying to lead a shift in opinion or substantiate a basis for better history education in the schools and amongst the general Canadian public. Just wondering?

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