The Legal Situation of Canada's Native Peoples

by Kaido Kama

Summary of the article: Kaido Kama. Kanada põlisrahvaste õiguslikust olukorrast. // Akadeemia. Tartu 1997 (nr 8), pp. 1722-1752
Taken from: Editorial note, Ibid., pp. 1760-1761

In his article, Estonian politician and native movement activist Kaido Kama describes the legal situation of Canada's indigenous population. The native ppeoples - Indians, Inuits (Eskimos), and Métis (a people of mixed French and Cree origins, with a peculiar culture and identity) - make up 4.3 per cent of Canada's total population. So far, the government has taken pains primarily to regulate the situation of Indians, whose numbers are greatest. A special Federal department has been created to coordinate their life - the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, operating on the basis of a special law, the Indian Act. Record is kept of the Indians. (They have 600 small reservations.) No such record has been kept of the Inuit. Their traditional way of life has been protected by their location far in the North; colonists began to take interest in them only during the oil and gas boom of our century. The situation of the Métis is the vaguest and least determined of all. The legal situation of Canada's native peoples is defined by treaty rights and aboriginal rights. Both of these are set forth in the Canadian Constitution. But neither in the constitution nor in other legal acts are they established unequivocally, thus leaving room for various theoretical speculations. The article gives a detailed survey of treaties concluded between native peoples and colonists. Treaty rights are based on the traditions of British colonization, differing sharply from, e.g., Spanish, French or Russian traditions with its elaborate system of treaties. Thus Russian colonial policy, for instance, has attempted to assimilate nations of different racial origins with the conquerers, whereas the Anglo-American system has treated them as separate subjects of the law. As a rule, Canadian native peoples do not juxtapose themselves to the Canadian Federation; rather than that, they seek a special position within it. Even though the native peoples of Russia have a different social, political and historical background, they might have something to learn from native Canadians.