Negotiation of a claim settlement is only half the battle; implementation is the other half.

–Evelyn Peters, University of Saskatchewan

We negotiated and signed our modern treaties in good faith, with the sincere belief that they would provide for appropriate recognition of our rights and interests in our traditional territories, and deliver a turning point in the difficult socio-economic circumstances of our people.

Over the last four decades, however, such necessary improvements have not occurred. Numerous independent reviewers, including the Auditor General Report (2003 and 2007), the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples (May 2008) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people (Mission to Canada, 2004), have confirmed that the Government of Canada is fulfilling neither its obligations in full under these agreements, nor their spirit and intent. Consequently modern treaties are failing to achieve their overall objectives.

Court Action: A Last Resort

When the federal government has refused to fully implement our modern treaties, we have reluctantly turned to the courts.

In 2006 Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Inuit organization that represents the Inuit of Nunavut, filed a $1 billion lawsuit against the Government of Canada for failure to fully implement the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. The suit was settled in 2015 with an award of $255.5 million. Unfortunately, in the years following the settlement many Government of Canada obligations have remained unfulfilled.

The most recent example of court action resulting from broken modern treaty promises is the Yukon Peel River watershed case. LCAC members Na Cho Nyak Dun, the Tetlit Gwich’in, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and the Vuntut Gwitchin were forced to initiate legal action after the Yukon Government repeatedly failed to honour their modern treaty obligations in this pristine wilderness area. In December 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of modern treaty rights, overturning a lower court ruling and setting a precedent for land use planning across the country.

Positive Signs

Recently there have been positive signs that the Government of Canada is beginning to take its modern treaty obligations more seriously. In 2015 Bernard Valcourt, Minister of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, oversaw the adoption of a Cabinet Directive dictating a “Whole of Government Approach” to modern treaty implementation. As a result, more than 30 federal departments are beginning to understand and honour their modern treaty obligations.

In 2016 and 2017 several new federal offices and initiatives were created to work with LCAC members on land claim implementation issues. The Modern Treaties Implementation Office (MTIO), Assessment of Modern Treaty Implications Office (AMTI), Performance Management Framework (PMF), Modern Treaty Management Environment (MTME), and Deputy Minister’s Oversight Committee (DMOC), as well as the Reconciliation Secretariat, are engaging with LCAC members on a wide range of long-standing implementation issues.

While we acknowledge with optimism these recent developments at the federal level, little has changed in our communities, where funding for critical services such as infrastructure and education continues to be far below levels in other parts of Canada.

As we have done since our inception in 2003, LCAC members continue to insist that the Government of Canada meet its obligations and fully implement our treaties, for the benefit of all Canadians.

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