First Nations Negotiation Process: …and into the fire

Yesterday I was commenting on Jim Prentices proposed reform to the First Nations treaty negotiation process. Specifically, he is considering giving the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) the authority to make legal rulings and thus settle agreements.

While the details have not all been made clear, it would appear that Prentice’s reform seeks to shift the ICC’s role from that of mediator – where any agreement is determined by the parties themselves rather than being imposed by a third party – to arbitrator – where agreements are imposed by the arbitrator and to which the disagreeing parties agree, in advance, to be bound.

The problem with arbitration is that it may not solve the underlying problems plaguing the process. For example, Prentice sites two shortcomings of the current process – it is too slow, and not perceived to be legitimate.

Arbitration, may increase the speed. However, it may not be any more legitimate, and could actually be less so…

For example, on what basis would arbitrated decisions be made? What would be the guiding principles the arbitrators would reference? Who would establish these principles? Will these be negotiated? If so, by who? All First Nations and the government? Or a representative sub-group? Ultimately, if the principles that guide the arbitration are not perceived by all parties to be fair and legitimate, or if the arbitrators themselves lack the respect of the opposing parties then the process may actually be seen as less legitimate then the current negotiations.

Indeed, this is even more important given the nature of the negotiations. Because the parties are negotiating over sovereignty this process is deeply political. Will Canadians, or First Nation, feel comfortable handing such a sensitive decision over to a third party who has no track record in making these decisions and so, to which the outcomes will be unpredictable?

Another problem with arbitration is that it does little to resolve any relationship/trust/cooperation problems between the parties. By bringing in a third party to resolve the dispute First Nations and the government will establish a problematic precedent: When we don’t agree, bring someone else in to arbitrate.

In many respects, treaty settlements are not the end of the process but the beginning. Treaties form the basis for a new relationships between First Nations and the government. Regardless of the treaty’s specifics, the parties are going to have to learn to work together more effectively going forward. To assume, that once the settlement is out of the way, all the actors will know their jurisdictions and powers and so will get along, is probably a false one. Just ask anyone whose ever worked on Fed-Prov relations…

If Canadians are serious about creating a new relationship with First Nations it feels odd that the first step in establishing this new relationship would be to put a third party between the two groups. Negotiating can be fair, legitimate and (relatively) speedy. The question isn’t about arbitration, it is about whether this (or any) government wants to make it a priority.

4 thoughts on “First Nations Negotiation Process: …and into the fire

  1. Tania

    I left a comment on your previous post but it disappeared or I was half-asleep when posting so I didn’t click something.

    I don’t see this binding arbitration thing going over too well. It doesn’t bode well with me, that’s for sure.

    How can you bind a people’s history? There is, legitimate, distrust by a lot of First Nations Peoples when dealing with the government. I’m trying to think back in history where their decisions – that they say were in the best interests of First Nations – actually boded well for First Nations.

    I don’t see very many First Nations agreeing to binding arbitration unless ground rules were set up, such as no ceding of rights. Can you imagine the government saying you give up your rights as First Nations people (to land, resources, etc.) and an arbitrator agreeing to that?

    Despite the slow process of the courts, a lot of rulings have been in favour of First Nations and I don’t see them giving up that kind of power after fighting so long through the Canadian “justice” system to get them.

    Reply
  2. Tania

    I left a comment on your previous post but it disappeared or I was half-asleep when posting so I didn’t click something.I don’t see this binding arbitration thing going over too well. It doesn’t bode well with me, that’s for sure.How can you bind a people’s history? There is, legitimate, distrust by a lot of First Nations Peoples when dealing with the government. I’m trying to think back in history where their decisions – that they say were in the best interests of First Nations – actually boded well for First Nations. I don’t see very many First Nations agreeing to binding arbitration unless ground rules were set up, such as no ceding of rights. Can you imagine the government saying you give up your rights as First Nations people (to land, resources, etc.) and an arbitrator agreeing to that? Despite the slow process of the courts, a lot of rulings have been in favour of First Nations and I don’t see them giving up that kind of power after fighting so long through the Canadian “justice” system to get them.

    Reply
  3. Amiel Blajchman

    Is this a damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of process? Prentice has taken a good first step, acknowledging that INAC cannot negotiate on behalf of the government with First Nations, Inuit and the Metis, and at the very same time, represent them around the cabinet table.

    Without knowing too much of the thinking that has gone behind the recent announcement, perhaps there is a more prosaic explanation as well? Perhaps there is not a clear understanding of the dictionary definition of arbitration (by the speechmakers), and what Prentice means to say is that the ICC may become a mediator who “can” arbitrate if both parties want?

    As with many other governmental initiatives, there will be a consultation process that should clear up some of the confusion behind the technicalities of this process.

    Reply
  4. Amiel Blajchman

    Is this a damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of process? Prentice has taken a good first step, acknowledging that INAC cannot negotiate on behalf of the government with First Nations, Inuit and the Metis, and at the very same time, represent them around the cabinet table.Without knowing too much of the thinking that has gone behind the recent announcement, perhaps there is a more prosaic explanation as well? Perhaps there is not a clear understanding of the dictionary definition of arbitration (by the speechmakers), and what Prentice means to say is that the ICC may become a mediator who “can” arbitrate if both parties want?As with many other governmental initiatives, there will be a consultation process that should clear up some of the confusion behind the technicalities of this process.

    Reply

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