Dǫ nàke làànı̀ nàts’etso: A critical review of self-government implementation in Canada’s North
Over the last forty years, modern treaties have become one of the most popular arrangements for redefining the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. Canada views modern treaties as means to achieving certainty respecting ownership, use and management of lands and resources. It is also used as a means of achieving reconciliation by redefining the relationship with Indigenous peoples as one based on mutual respect, recognition, and cooperation. Some Indigenous Nations view modern treaties a means for protecting and promoting their unique languages, cultures and ways of life. Canada’s rhetoric around modern treaties suggests that there is value in this new legal arrangement. Upon closer inspection it appears that modern treaties may just be an extension of the racist, paternalistic, oppressive policies of the past. This research asks the question how does modern treaty implementation affect the ultimate value of modern treaties as a mechanism for protecting sovereignty, language, culture and way of life? Drawing on critical theory and a materialist perspective this work offers an analysis of the on the ground implementation of self-government using the Tłı̨chǫ Treaty as a case study. By deploying theories of totalization and primitive accumulation this work demonstrates that in its current form, the implementation of self-government seeks to transform Indigenous economic structures and define and control the delivery of programs and services in Indigenous communities. Although Indigenous peoples continue to resist, if there is never relief from this oppression, self-government implementation has the potential to do irreparable harm to Indigenous peoples’ cultures and way of life. This work argues that if Canada and Canadians truly seek to undo the harms caused by colonization and to achieve reconciliation, they need to relinquish control over Indigenous lives, lands and governments. New legal instruments do little to resolve the injustice and just serve to be yet another distraction which consumes the resources of Indigenous governments. Ultimately, Indigenous peoples will need to shift attention away from engaging with the state and instead focus their attention inward, asserting their rights to lands and sovereignty to protect their unique culture and way of life.