INDIGENOUS RIGHTS – First Nations must accept their rights aren’t absolute

Public policy discourse needs to move away from where Indigenous issues are paramount to where they’re one set among many

Research Associate
Frontier Centre for Public Policy

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE too often seem to think that their rights are absolute or act as if their rights trump everything else.

This attitude was seen clearly in a reaction from the Saskatchewan-based Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) after the Saskatchewan government changed the policy regarding when people can hunt on summer pasture lands.

Joseph Quesnel.

All hunters must now receive the permission of pasture managers or lessees before hunting on former federal pastures or Crown land.

“I’m going to hunt on these lands, so be prepared to charge me,” dared FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron.

The policy change was made because the government was concerned about the safety of people and livestock in the pastures. And the Supreme Court of Canada has clearly ruled that safety is paramount in Indigenous hunting rights cases.

However, that doesn’t stop some Indigenous people from acting like their rights are absolute.

Indigenous proponents of certain natural resource projects display the same absolutist attitude when they invoke the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to oppose projects, arguing they have what amounts to veto power. Even the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that UNDRIP doesn’t represent a veto doesn’t stop some Indigenous people from claiming it does.

Indigenous peoples sometimes need to be reminded that their rights must be balanced with rights and interests of other people. They need to understand that there are many other important objectives in society, such as the orderly development of resources to the benefit of all Canadians. Or for the conservation of resources.

In this age of truth and reconciliation, it’s hard to not think that First Nations are the most important issue out there. Indigenous people need to learn more humility around these issues.

Our public policy discourse needs to move away from where Indigenous issues are paramount to where they’re one set, albeit an important set, among many. If that happens, perhaps Indigenous people will be more balanced in their demands and approaches, and they’ll work more co-operatively with other Canadians.

A recent court ruling and government action demonstrate how and why Indigenous rights are not absolute.

In Bigstone Cree Nation versus Nova Gas Transmission Ltd., the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the government’s decision to approve a natural gas project in northern Alberta. It also concluded that the federal government adequately fulfilled its duty to consult and accommodate the Bigstone people, whereas Bigstone had failed to meet its reciprocal duty to engage in consultation in good faith. The ruling also upheld the National Energy Board (NEB) review process.

The court ruling found that the First Nation was given adequate time and funding to be consulted and accommodated. The First Nation failed to do so.

The Manitoba government recently announced it would curb the practice of hunting at night with spotlights, with some specific exemptions for Indigenous people. Predictably, First Nation critics said a ban on night hunting – a practice seen by wildlife groups as dangerous and unfair to game – violated their treaty and constitutional rights. First Nation organizations in Manitoba used that familiar complaint that they were not consulted enough. But people who oppose certain legislation will always say this. No amount of consultation is ever enough for these organizations.

The province justly asserted its rights to protect wildlife and all people in the area.

Perhaps the most glaring and long-standing example of this problem can be found in relation to the historic treaties across Canada. First Nations people frequently interpret the treaties – such as the numbered treaties on the Prairies – to include things that weren’t in the original documents.

The criticism levelled by Indigenous critics that treaties are not just “real estate transactions” is mistaken. That’s largely what they were.

Governments need to remind Indigenous people and communities that their rights are not absolute or paramount. Other Canadians need to know this as well.

Indigenous rights and interests must be balanced with the equally important rights and interests of others.

Joseph Quesnel is a research fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

© Troy Media

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13 Comments on INDIGENOUS RIGHTS – First Nations must accept their rights aren’t absolute

  1. Cynthia Friedman // June 26, 2018 at 9:05 PM // Reply

    I admit that my source below is both slightly out-of-date as well as biased in its own way, but the actual facts and direct quotes within should raise some eyebrows:

  2. Tony Brumell // June 26, 2018 at 3:29 PM // Reply

    How about white colonialist ???
    The treaties that were negotiated in bad faith were never meant to be real estate transactions .They were instruments of suppression and virtually nothing else. They were meant to allow new comer to take whatever they wanted without recourse to first nations origional rights.
    I believe that under the Delgamuk and Silkotin and most recent supreme court rulings that virtually all origional treaties must be renegotiated “IN GOOD FAITH ” Without the advantage of “White privilage”

  3. Nicole Jay // June 26, 2018 at 1:46 PM // Reply

    What an absolute biased, unbalanced example of filth this article is. Joseph Quesnel, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. If you want to be a research associate/author, research both sides what the issue you’re writing about. Research the First Nations of the area, find out how what hunting means to their culture, and how and where they’ve always done it. Research treaties between the government and First Nations, and see how many have been broken. Research how indigenous people have been treated, in their own country, on their own land, by the government and general public. Take the time to find out why Indigenous people want what they want. You’ll find that there is no ‘balance’ or anything even resembling it. Do not ‘research’ one side and present it as the truth. Racism and jealousy is rampant enough in this country, we don’t need you publishing nonsense like this to add fuel to the already raging wildfire. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

    • Mel Rothenburger // June 26, 2018 at 1:55 PM // Reply

      Here is Joseph Quesnel’s biography and credentials from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy website:

      Joseph Quesnel is a research fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. A Northern Ontarian by background, Joseph now lives in Antigonish in eastern Nova Scotia with his wife Melanie.
      Joseph is also Quebec Metis by heritage and interested in Indigenous issues, in particular effective governance and economic development. He is a graduate of McGill University, where he majored in political science and history, specializing in constitutional law and process. For several years, Joseph sat on the editorial board for C2C Journal, an online public affairs publication. For almost 10 years, Joseph worked as a full-time policy analyst with the Prairie-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy, where he worked mainly on Aboriginal issues, but also on property rights and water market issues. Joseph led the Frontier Centre’s Aboriginal Governance Index, an annual barometer of perceptions of quality of governance and services on Prairie First Nations. For this Index, Joseph helped develop the opinion survey distributed to band members and travelled extensively to Prairie reserves. He also led a major study on the self-governing Nisga’a Nation in 2010. Joseph also produced Canada’s first Property Rights Index, that measures property rights protections in all 10 provinces and three territories. Joseph’s work has been published in newspapers all across Canada, including the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Vancouver Sun, the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal, the Montreal Gazette, the Ottawa Citizen, the Chronicle-Herald, the Telegraph Journal, as well as many other newspapers.

  4. Sean McGuinness // June 25, 2018 at 8:24 PM // Reply

    So the point of this article is that “indigenous peoples sometimes need to be reminded that their rights must be balanced with the rights of other people”. Well, this is whopper of a statement which ignores about 400 years of colonial brutality. One might ask, what is the real point of this column? Seeing the bigger picture offers a clue. The FCPP has published a number of articles attacking the premise of traditional knowledge, indigenous rights, the negative coverage of residential schools, the indian act, unjustified tax exemptions …. all this within the last month.
    The board of the FCPP, which is stacked with Harper era loyalists, energy company ceos and their ilk, only want to chip away at the credibility of the people who oppose their business interests — oil and gas developments, pipeline developments, mines etc. If there is question as to where they stand, take a look at their 17-part series on climate change “alarmism”.

  5. Tony Brumell // June 25, 2018 at 11:52 AM // Reply

    When indiginous rights are set by treaty or by the supreme court of Canada then your damn right they should be set in stone. Other wise we , (White guys, using white privilage ) become unreliable scammers.A promise given by treaty must remain as a promise from one government to another .Unless of course you name is Trump.

  6. Joseph Quesnel is spot on! Something that needed to be said before the pendulum swings too far. We are one society in Canada, not two. Indigenous peoples of Canada are just one of many factions that make up Canada.

    • Nicole Jay // June 26, 2018 at 1:53 PM // Reply

      Something that needed to be said before Indigenous people get even close to the level the settlers placed themselves on, you mean? That’s what this is really about. Settlers have placed themselves so high above Indigenous people, that they’re afraid of the playing field leveling out, and they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep it from happening. Indigenous people will never consent to giving up their culture, it’s the difference between them and settlers.

    • Joe Quesnell is a white supremist and makes use of the so called White privilage paradigm in the country..Our society is labelled as mixed society .We are not one society . like the mixing bowl south of the line.The very concept of colonialism opens the country up to all societies.The people who were here before you don’t like it because they had no say in eventuallities.And if it were left up to you they never would .SHAME ON YOU.

      • Mel Rothenburger // June 26, 2018 at 2:53 PM //

        Tony, please take a look at Joseph Quesnel’s biography in my reply to Nicole Jay. I hardly think he qualifies as a white supremacist.

  7. Cynthia Friedman // June 25, 2018 at 7:26 AM // Reply

    This article has “colonialism” all over it. It talks of “Crown land” (aka lands that we settlers stole), as well as judges and laws (again, all Colonial laws). The Indigenous Peoples had and have their own laws. I agree that the hunting in a pasture is one hell of a dangerous idea. But what is needed instead of the heavy hand of Colonial law are community meetings with equal representation, and mediation. Reconciliation needs to be better informed by a whole new approach.

  8. Ian MacKenzie // June 25, 2018 at 6:06 AM // Reply

    Considering the fact that indigenous protests of extractive projects on their land seem to be the only brake to corporative industries that threaten the survival of our world I would say that they need to stand fast with the belief that they have veto rights. That’s the only way a captured NEB and prime minister can be slowed down in their support of the pursuit of wealth by the industrialized elite who are allowed far too much leeway. During and since Harper and his omnibus bills tried to make Canada an energy giant in the world we have had too little serious environmental assessment on their projects.
    Sounds to me like Joseph Quesnel is simply another advocate for industry in a David and Goliath struggle.

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