This article is part of a series analyzing the Canada Federal Government’s “10 Principles respecting the relationship with Indigenous peoples”. Click here to start over at the beginning.)
Principle # 3 Reads:
3. The Honour of the Crown guides the conduct of the Crown in all of its dealings with Indigenous peoples.
What is “the Honour of the Crown”?
In his 2014 book The Comeback, John Ralston Saul wrote: “What is the Honour of the Crown? It is the obligation of the state to act ethically in its dealings with the people. Not just legally or legalistically. Not merely administratively or efficiently but ethically. The Honour of the Crown is the obligation of the state to act with respect for the citizen.”
What is “the Crown”?
The word ‘crown’ is a relic of Canada’s colonial history with ties to the British Empire’s commercial outposts for trade and settler colonies. The Crown in our system of government holds all power and is the monarch. In our constitutional democracy we vote for the legislative branch of government, but executive power continues to reside with the Crown. In the same way all property is actually owned by the Crown. Has the Crown’s management of lands and resources respected Aboriginal title?
How does Canada currently conduct itself with Indigenous peoples?
Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous peoples is defined by the Indian Act – first passed by Parliament in 1876. We are represented politically by our Members of Parliament who in theory bring our voices to debate to create laws and government policy. The civil service of bureaucrats carry out the work of Canada – the work of the Crown. With how much “honour” has the Crown acted to date, and what changes can we expect going forward?
Does the Indian Act embody respect?
The name alone suggests not. INAC historically has made assimilation its mandate implementing policy aimed at dissolving Indigenous culture and identity. Can such paternalistic legislation embody respect? Is the Honour of the Crown apparent at negotiating tables where Indigenous leaders are fighting for the implementation of rights and title?
Can Canada’s Crown go beyond its colonial roots?
Does respect for Indigenous peoples mean the Canadian public needs to better understand Indigenous interests? With the distinct cultural differences between Indigenous people and settlers, do government employees need to understand their colonial biases?
Are our universities, colleges, and public schools educating Canadians adequately such that unique Indigenous views are recognized and respected? What is working well to create better cultural understanding and respect? What else needs to be done?
Tell us what you think
Is this kind of radical change possible? Where would it start? Are we ready for it? Would it have negative impacts on our economy? Would it ultimately lead us to a post-colonial Canada? What would that look like?
Let us know what you think about the Honour of the Crown in moving us all into a post-colonial Canada. Leave a comment below and add your voice to the dialogue.
Coming next: Principle #4 – Indigenous Self-government