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30th anniversary of Section 35 is an opportunity to reflect on the potential for relationship building between indigenous and non-indigenous communities

Auteurs: Marcia Nickerson

Upon the 30th anniversary of the enactment of Section 35, which recognized and enshrined Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, the Institute on Governance convened a series of symposia, gathering together leaders and practitioners from Indigenous communities, public governments, and the private sector to reflect on the influence Section 35 has had on federal and provincial law, policy and decision-making and on indigenous governance.  Following on the heels of the Beyond Section 35 symposia in Ottawa in and Vancouver, the IOG and Treaty 7 Management Corporation will be presenting the next symposium in the series, Building Relationships, in Calgary this October.

A series of landmark decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada have affirmed and begun to define the duty to consult and accommodate indigenous communities whose Section 35 rights may be affected by proposed developments. These constitutionally-recognized and court-affirmed rights have accorded indigenous communities considerable say over much of the land being considered for development, which in turn gives indigenous communities a critical role in determining the scope and extent of national, provincial, and regional prosperity.  However, concerns around the lack of consultation for proposed projects occurring on or near their traditional territories, along with ongoing significant socio-economic gaps between indigenous and other Canadian communities, have led many indigenous leaders to contest developments in court and through blockades and other direct action. So while Section 35 has contributed to a number of important changes in the relationship between indigenous communities, public governments and industry, it is clear the full potential of Section 35 has not yet been realized, with wide socio-economic disparities continuing to exist between many indigenous peoples and other Canadians.

The 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation and 30th anniversary of Section 35 provide opportune moments to reflect on the potential for relationship building to empower indigenous communities, close persistent socio-economic gaps, and set our economies on a strong course for success.

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