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Centre for the North Blogs

Constructive steps towards Indigenizing professional engineering by Jane Cooper, Senior Research Associate, The Conference Board of Canada | October 2020

You look at mining companies, or any natural resource extraction … and one of the primary types of conflicts that they have is with Indigenous people. That is happening because there is this massive cultural and knowledge gap between the science people and Indigenous people. In engineering, we would hugely benefit from a class on treaties. Because no matter where you go, you're going to deal with project management that has to do with Indigenous land, or Indigenous people, or Indigenous treaties.

Health emergencies in Indigenous communities in Canada: Then and now

Pandemics and diseases loom large in the history of Indigenous groups in Canada. Past outbreaks have had devastating outcomes, fueled by colonial policies and persistent inequalities.

Today, Indigenous communities are both receiving and giving support to counter COVID-19. But it is important that the current public health response acknowledges their history. By examining past pandemics, we can better understand how Indigenous communities are experiencing the current crisis.

Inclusive growth is more than jobs and GDP by Oana Spinu, Senior Research Associate and Adam Fiser, Associate Director at The Conference Board of Canada | June 2020

It is about dignity and quality of life through self-determination and sustainable livelihoods.

In a world shaken by the pandemic crisis and social inequality, many voices are now calling for measures to build a more inclusive society and economy. In Canada’s North, Inuit have been developing their own vision of inclusive growth, one where they share the same quality of life as all Canadians. Inclusive growth is more than jobs and GDP. It is about dignity and quality of life through self-determination and sustainable livelihoods.

Responding to COVID-19—Indigenous communities can’t be expected to do more with less by Stefan Fournier, Director, Indigenous and Northern Communities, The Conference Board of Canada | May 2020

When Canada’s rural and remote Indigenous communities face emergencies, they often lack the resources and supports common to most Canadian towns and cities. But despite being at a comparative disadvantage, these communities generally manage to respond. They do this by using their strengths—by relying on informal practices, traditional knowledge, local skills, and on each other.

It is remarkable what First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities can do with little to work with. Many communities are again looking to their strengths and ingenuity, as they face the threat of COVID-19. But should we be expecting these communities to do more with less? Does this produce optimal outcomes?

Fast-Tracked Innovations: Could COVID-19 Accelerate Health Technologies in Canada’s North?
by Ken Coates, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation and Carin Holroyd, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan and Joelena Leader, Research Facilitator, Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan | April 2020

The coronavirus crisis of 2020 has exposed the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian health care system. This is particularly true in Canada’s North, where isolated Indigenous communities face the prospects of widespread infection with great anxiety. The remoteness of Northern settlements—coupled with serious housing shortages, overcrowded homes, and limited health care services—heighten the dangers of the pandemic.

Addressing the causes of Indigenous vulnerability to pandemics—not just the symptoms
by Oana Spinu, Senior Research Associate I, The Conference Board of Canada and Jordan Wapass, Principal Research Associate, The Conference Board of Canada | March 2020

Many have rightfully called for decisive government action to ensure that Indigenous communities have essential resources to respond to COVID-19. In response to the immediate needs of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, the federal government announced $305 million for a distinctions-based Indigenous Communities Support Fund. Only time will tell how effective the fund will be in empowering communities to deal with the crisis.

No More “Jurisdictional Wasteland” for Métis and Non-Status Indians

May 18, 2016
Kala Pendakur Kala Pendakur
Research Associate
Northern and Aboriginal Policy

Canada is moving through some significant changes in its relationship with Aboriginal people. And as we approach Aboriginal Awareness Week (May 24 to 27), we wanted to take a moment to place a spotlight on two recent and important decisions.

First, last month, in a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the term “Indians” includes non-status Indians and Métis. This came in response to the Daniels v. Canada case, launched in 1999, which sought three declarations1:

  • that Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under S.91(24) of the Constitution Act;
  • that the federal Crown owes a fiduciary duty to Métis and non-status Indians;
  • that Métis and non-status Indians have the right to be consulted and negotiated with, in good faith, by the federal government on a collective basis through representatives of their choice, respecting all their rights, interests, and needs as Aboriginal peoples.2

Previously, Métis and non-status Indians were stuck in a “jurisdictional wasteland” between the federal and provincial governments. This decision has now extended the federal government’s responsibilities to include approximately 600,000 Métis and non-status Indians in Canada.3 The possible impacts of this decision will need to be studied further; but, as a starting point, it may serve as an opening for Métis and non-status individuals and groups to pursue land claims and seek access to additional government programs and services.4 Moreover, while the case does not impact who in Canada has “status” as a registered Indian, Claire Truesdale of JFK Law Corporation did note that it could be useful in future court cases “as Canada can no longer deny that it also has responsibility for Métis and non-status Indians and may be asked to justify why those groups are excluded from the benefits of status.”5

Notably, Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella stated that, as we look further into Canada’s history with Indigenous peoples, inequities are being increasingly revealed, but that “this case represents another chapter in the pursuit of reconciliation and redress in that relationship.”6

The second major decision involves the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which was adopted by the UN in 2007. Now, nearly 10 years later, Canada has officially decided to adopt the Declaration. Twenty-five years in the making, the declaration is an important instrument that asserts the collective rights of Indigenous peoples around the globe. Moreover, Canada’s Indigenous Affairs Minister, Carolyn Bennett, noted during her statement to the UN on May 10 that adoption is an important step toward reconciliation.7

UNDRIP, as it stands, is not a legally binding document, and how Canada works to implement it—as either an aspirational or a legal document—could have significant impacts on Canadian law.8 For instance, before UNDRIP was officially adopted, lawyers across Canada debated what the principle of “free, prior, and informed consent” (FPIC) would really mean. The principle, which refers to the rights of Indigenous peoples to provide or withhold their consent in decision-making processes that affect them and their lands—including in such areas as education, natural resource management, economic development, and health care—is mentioned in six articles of UNDRIP. The legal implications associated with the word “consent” in FPIC could have significant implications, as illustrated by statements from experts.9 Others pointed out that the current government has the opportunity to make it clear that FPIC can be integrated in our domestic laws in a fashion that works with our federal framework and constitution.10

These two decisions will have a significant impact on the future of Canada and its relationships with Aboriginal people from coast to coast to coast. How UNDRIP and the Daniels case will affect policy for industry and government is still to be seen. However, moving forward, all parties will need to pay close attention and take thoughtful and prudent approaches. Perhaps even more importantly, open dialogues among all parties (e.g., Indigenous individuals, government, industry) will be vital to ensuring progress.

If you would like to learn more about the possible implications of UNDRIP in Canada, watch our webinar “Understanding the Implications of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada,” presented by Tom Isaac, a nationally recognized authority in the area of Aboriginal law.


1     Daniels v. Canada (Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 2016 SCC 12 (Supreme Court of Canada, May 10, 2016). (accessed May 11, 2016).

2     The court declined to grant the second and third declarations, arguing that they would be restating existing laws.

3     Tim Fontaine, “Unanimous Ruling Says Ottawa Has Jurisdiction Over All Indigenous People.” CBC News, April 14, 2016.

4     Ibid.

5     Claire Truesdale, Supreme Court of Canada Releases Daniels Decision. April 14, 2016. (accessed May 12, 2016).

6     Daniels v. Canada.

7     Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Canada Becomes a Full Supporter of the United Nations Declation on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, news release, May 10, 2016. (accessed May 11, 2016).

8     Mackenzie Scrimshaw, “Unpacking UNDRIP: How Trudeau Could Take Crown/First Nations Law Into Uncharted Waters,” iPolitics, January 12, 2016. (accessed May 12, 2016).

9     Ibid.

10     Ibid.

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