Indigenous Governance and Self-Determination at the Institute on Governance

5 minute read

By: Ross Holden, VP of Indigenous Governance and Self-Determination

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For millennia, people named the months after features they associated with them, such as the colour of a full moon. Many of these names are very similar across the northern hemisphere, such as that for the golden moon we see at the vernal equinox in September (“Harvest Moon”), which in early agrarian societies signaled that it was time to harvest the crops. June’s pinkish full moon (commonly called the “Rose Moon” in Europe) coincides with the ripening of wild strawberries, and because of this combination of colour and association with food, June is called “Strawberry Month” by many of the Indigenous peoples of North America. So it is my pleasure, on this the occasion of the Institute on Governance’s Ode’ imini-Giizis newsletter (the Anishinaabe Ode’ imini, meaning “strawberry,” and Giizis, for “month”) to introduce myself, and re-introduce the IOG’s aspirations for supporting Indigenous governance and self-determination.

In Canada we associate the word “Indigenous” with the people whose ancestors were the original inhabitants of North America – First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Through the work I’ve done with Indigenous peoples over the past two decades, I’m often asked if I am Indigenous myself. The answer is No. In fact, I’m a quintessential British mutt, of Celtic and Saxon extraction, so I am not indigenous to Turtle Island, but rather to a much smaller group of islands across the Atlantic Ocean, in the northwestern corner of Europe. The nest question is invariably: Why do I do what I do?

Part of the reason has to do with my upbringing. My father, a civil engineer by training, had a distinguished career working with First Nation communities building bridges (literally, and figuratively), roads, schools, and water treatment plants. Because of this, growing-up, my sister and I had the unique privilege of spending more than one summer vacation in a remote, fly-in community; fishing, playing, fishing, eating, and fishing some more. Needless to say, our annual back-to-school “What did you do over the summer vacation?” spiels usually stole the show. It was also not unusual for my father to invite a Chief over for dinner when in town, and there I would sit at the table, wide-eyed and open-eared as they discussed the issues of the day and the challenges his community faced (back then they were all male), while I tried to think of some way to avoid eating my peas. This early, uncommon, but enlightening exposure to Indigenous culture and reality made an indelible imprint on me and has informed my worldview ever since.

Fishin Fort Hope

The other reason I do what I do is that, given our shameful history of colonialism and all that it entails, I am of the view that Canada’s social, economic and moral success as a nation is contingent upon reconciliation between Indigenous peoples, and our broader society. Unless and until the historic wrongs inflicted upon Indigenous peoples are addressed, until they are able to exercise their inherent right to self-determination, until they enjoy the same standard of living that the rest of us take for granted, and until they have re-taken their seat at the highest levels of decision-making in the land, we as a country will continue to flounder in the mediocrity that has held us back from greatness for decades. This is the most important challenge facing Canada, so for the sake of all our children and grandchildren, I feel compelled to do whatever small part I can to help right past wrongs and set us on a good path. Which brings me to the work IOG has done - and will continue to do - on Indigenous governance and self-determination.

The IOG is proud of its track record in supporting Indigenous governance, self-determination, community wellbeing, and renewed nation-to-nation relationships. Dating back to its inception in the early 1990s, the IOG has a long history of research and publication on such diverse topics as First Nations and Métis governance, relationships between First Nations and the forest industry, urban Indigenous peoples, potable water in First Nations communities, Indigenous community economic development, self-government, and nation-to-nation relationships.

Since the release of the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada in 2015, the IOG has delivered a number of courses to federal and provincial public servants grounded in TRC Report Call to Action #57. In 2017, the IOG and Canadians for a New Partnership convened the cross-Canada Characteristics of a Nation-to-Nation Relationship Dialogue Series, which brought together First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders and federal representatives to articulate their perspectives on four themes: Nation Building and Re- Building, Jurisdiction, Intergovernmental Fiscal Relationships, and Wealth Creation. In 2018, the IOG partnered with the First Nations Financial Management Board (FMB) to develop the Self-Determination and Governance framework to support the transition out of the Indian Act to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship. More recently, the IOG organized and convened a workshop that brought together experts in Indigenous Knowledge, and members of the federal science community, to explore the practice and policy of interweaving Indigenous and western scientific methodologies.

Moving forward, the IOG will continue to act as an objective, third-party intermediary between the Crown and First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples by bringing to bear an extensive network of subject matter and technical experts, Elders and others to facilitate dialogue, learning, capacity-building and policy development, all in support of reconciliation, a renewed nation-to-nation relationship, and self-determination. I feel honoured to be part of that effort. For more information about what IOG is doing in the field of Indigenous governance and self-determination, or if you’re interested in supporting the IOG’s efforts, I encourage you to contact me at And don’t forget to look to the sky early in the morning of June 17 to see the Strawberry Moon, and a few days later, on June 21 the summer solstice, to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day.

About the author

Institute on Governance

Institute on Governance

Founded in 1990, the Institute on Governance (IOG) is an independent, Canada-based, not-for-profit public interest institution with its head office in Ottawa and an office in Toronto. Our mission is ‘advancing better governance in the public interest,’ which we accomplish by exploring, developing and promoting the principles, standards and practices which underlie good governance in the public sphere, both in Canada and abroad.

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