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Understanding First Nation Sovereignty

  • We are the Anishinaabek, Mushkegowuk, Onkwehonwe, and Lenape Peoples – the Indigenous Peoples located within the artificial borders of Ontario.
  • As the sovereign Nations of Turtle Island, we possess inherent rights to self-determination.
  • Our right to self-determination means we have jurisdiction (the right, power and authority) to administer and operate our own political, legal, economic, social and cultural systems.
  • The recognition of our Nationhood through Treaty making is why the successor state of Canada must work with our Nations on the basis of a government-to-government relationship.
  • Treaties were made between Nations, establishing how Treaty partners will co-exist, therefore, granting rights and permissions to the settlers and their colonial governments, on areas such as land and resources.
  • The Spirit and Intent of the made Treaties must be honoured, respected and implemented (practiced) by all Treaty people.
  • The land is the founding source of our identity and culture. Great responsibilities to protect and preserve the land have been bestowed upon us by the Creator, and are captured in each Nations Laws. Through Treaty our Nations agreed to share the land, therefore, our free, prior and informed consent is required before any development or decisions are made which may impact our inherent and Treaty rights to land.
  • As sovereign Nations we have never surrendered our rights or title in right of the Crown or the successor state of Canada but, have maintained and solidified their inherency through the Treaty making process.
  • Prior to contact with the European settlers, our Nations and Peoples - the Anishinaabek, Mushkegowuk, Onkwehonwe, and Lenape – have thrived since time immemorial in what is now known as the province of Ontario on Turtle Island (North America).  These Peoples make up 14 Nations: the Mushkegowuk (Cree), Mohawk, Tuscarora, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga (the Haudenosaunee - Onkwehonwe Peoples), Delaware, Mississauga, Chippewa, Pottawotami, Algonquin, Odawa, and Anishinabe (the Anishinaabek Peoples).

Our Nations possess distinct laws and governance systems, language, culture, territories, economic systems, a defined Peoples (citizenship), history and social structures.  This is why we are not “Aboriginal” – a term constructed by the Canadian government which does not recognize the distinct rights of First Nations nor the distinct identities of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples.

As distinct and independent Nations, we possess inherent rights to self-determination.  These inherent rights were not endowed by any other state or Nation, but are passed on through birthright, are collective, and flow from the connection to the Creator and our lands.  They cannot be taken away. Self-determination means we freely and independently determine and exercise our own political, legal, economic, social and cultural systems without external interference.  In other words, we have jurisdiction over all aspects of our livelihood.  

The land is our source of identity as Nations, and the Creator has laid out our responsibilities to these lands.  Our traditional territories stretch across Turtle Island.  We possess a relationship to the lands, water, and air as reflected in our ceremonies and our laws for our protection and perpetual use. These lands are different from lands reserved for Indians, whose borders were imposed by the Canadian government. We possess inherent and Treaty rights to utilize our traditional territories today.  

Treaties were made to establish how Nations would co-exist, and granted rights and permission to the settlers. Treaties are agreements made between our Indigenous Nations and also with the Crown. They were negotiated on the basis of mutual respect and the principles of Peace and Friendship, and determine how lands and resources are to be shared.  Treaties also outline responsibilities in areas such as education and health.   

The Spirit and Intent of the Treaties refers to the original, oral agreements made between First Nations and the British Crown, agreements which were altered when written in English. All Canadians and First Nations are party to the Treaties.

Treaties are living, international agreements, which remain valid today and continue to affirm our sovereign relationships.  We are and always have been original Nations that have never relinquished our title, rights, language, culture, and governance by way of Treaty to the British Crown or the successor state of Canada.

This is why we continually seek to work with State bodies on the basis of a government-to-government relationship.  This is why development or utilization of lands requires our free, prior, and informed consent, or when decisions are made which may impact our inherent and Treaty rights.  While Indigenous Nations are forced to use colonial systems and laws, this does not supersede our inherent rights.  Indigenous Peoples have been tireless in ensuring Inherent and Treaty rights are recognized through non-Indigenous vehicles such as the Constitution Act, case law and court decisions. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is another powerful international instrument which creates the minimum standards and principles for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous Peoples and their rights.