Author Information

Jacob Webster


Over the course of Canadian history, Indigenous peoples have endured a difficult relationship with the state. This relationship is indicative of the history of colonialism in Canada and continues be problematic in contemporary interactions between Canadian First Nations and the federal and provincial governments. The question of how Indigenous peoples fit into the Canadian federal system is a complex one whose answer depends largely on the specific contextual situation of each First Nations group. In this essay, I argue that the Nisga’a Treaty1 agreement exemplifies a commendable attempt at Indigenous self-government, which is consistent with the principles evoked in the Charlottetown Accord2 and in the scholarship on Indigenous self-government. In this way, the Nisga’a treaty sets up a model for Indigenous self-government that does not require constitutional change and is thus possible in the current constitutional context. The Nisga’a Treaty has withstood two judicial challenges and was informed by current constitutional principles (Aldridge and Fenge, 2015, 149). Because of its affirmed constitutionality, the Nisga’a Treaty provides a way forward within the current federal framework and provides a replicable example for First Nations. In order to argue that the Nisga’a Treaty creates a model for Indigenous self-government that is consistent with the theoretical ideals of Indigenous self-government, I first outline the principles evoked by the Charlottetown Accord and by scholars in the field of Indigenous self-government. I then summarize the text of the Nisga’a agreement, identifying relevant sections that coincide or potentially conflict with the theoretical principles proposed in the first section. In order to conduct a more fulsome examination of the Nisga’a agreement, I also examine recent studies that endeavor to evaluate the success of the Nisga’a agreement based on its practical implementation in the community, not simply on the text of the agreement. By examining the text and the practical implementation of the agreement, I argue that the Nisga’a treaty agreement provides the framework for Indigenous self-government in a way that is consistent with the theoretical principles identified by the Charlottetown Accord and certain scholars. The Nisga’a treaty is a sound implementation of Indigenous self-government that is possible without any constitutional change.

Note on the Author

Jacob Webster is a J.D. candidate in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. He recently completed an undergraduate degree at McGill University in Political Science.

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