PowerPoint - The BC Assembly of First Nations

Developing a
What is a community constitution?
• A “core institution” of governance
and arguably the most powerful tool
to develop in order to move away
from governance under the Indian
Act and through the “post colonial
• The fundamental law (rules) of any
Nation setting out – who is a citizen
of the Nation, its values, the
structure of its government and
allocating power among its parts
What is the purpose
of a community constitution?
The purpose of a constitution is:
• To provide consistency, stability and accountability in the Nation’s
governance over time
– For example: Is harder to enact and amend than other laws
– For example: Reflects deep-rooted consensus
• To reinforce confidence in the Nation’s government, both with its citizens
and third parties (e.g., other governments, the general public, business
community, etc.)
• To assert and confirm the autonomy of the Nation
Developing our constitution
• The Nation will need to consider what is appropriate to include in the
constitution and what is not. Constitutions can vary both in content and
• The process to develop a constitution is just as important as the contents of
the constitution itself.
• The constitution should embody community consensus as much as possible.
In designing the process to develop a constitution some questions to keep
in mind are:
– Who should be involved in developing the constitution?
– What is the role of advisors?
– How should we ratify the constitution?
– How do we ensure legitimacy of the process?
Developing our constitution cont’d…
Consider some of the challenges of the present Indian Act system that the
constitution might address. For example:
Establishing appropriate institutions of government
Requiring transparency of government
Ensuring accountability of leadership
Supporting an effective administration
Maintaining community safety
Providing certainty for economic development
Delineating the rights and responsibilities of your citizens
Expressing your cultural and traditional beliefs
Content of the constitution
Some questions to ask when considering the content of the constitution:
To what extent do we want to reflect culture and traditions in the
What institutions of governance do we want?
To what extent is it important that an external audience understand our
ways of doing things?
How much participation by citizens do we want?
What is an appropriate division of powers between our institutions of
Will decision-making be vested in one body? Do other decision-making
processes need to be considered as well?
Elements to
consider in the constitution
1. Founding Provisions
8. Conflict of Interest
2. Description of Lands
9. Financial Administration
3. Citizenship
10. Adjudicatory Bodies
4. Rights, Responsibilities and
Freedoms of Citizens
11. Referendums
5. Institutions of Government
12. Transitional Provisions
13. Amendment
6. Law Enactment
7. Meetings
1. Founding provisions
• Sets out the core values of the community (e.g., respect for the natural
environment and the land, sustainability, culture, rights and title etc.
• Most important part of the constitution taking into consideration views of
elders, youth and all community citizens
• Provides direction to the Nation’s leaders in their actions and creation of
• Guides all decision-making in the community and interpretation of laws
passed by the government
2. Description of lands
• Describes in general terms the geographical extent of the territory it applies
• This description is often in the founding provisions
Questions to consider:
What is the extent of our territory?
Does the constitution apply to our reserve lands or to the broader traditional
What are the considerations for how the constitution might apply to existing
First Nations (i.e., reserves) and its traditional territory (i.e., off-reserve)?
3. Citizenship
• Establishes rules to determine who is a citizen of the First Nation
• First Nations’ citizenship rules are distinct from who is eligible to be
registered as an ‘Indian’ under the Indian Act (status)
Question to consider:
What criteria would you see for becoming a citizen of your Nation? How would
this be different, if it is different, from determining membership in your band
4. Rights, responsibilities
and freedoms of citizens
Identifies the rights and benefits of citizens such as:
– participating in government,
– being able to live in the community and
– to receive services
The rights, responsibilities and freedoms we identify can: (1) clarify or expand upon
the rights and freedoms all Canadians enjoy under the Canadian Charter of Rights
and Freedoms and (2) can speak to the unique nature of our collective rights and
their relationship to individual rights
The constitution can also set out what is expected of the individual as part of the
collective (i.e., responsibilities)
Question to consider:
What is your understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizens?
5. Institutions of government
• Establishes the framework for government, setting out the institutions of the
government, what each institution is responsible for and the allocation of
power among them. It may provide some detail on how the governing body
is selected (e.g., chief and council)
• There are many ways to create government. The key is for the Nation to
create a system for choosing its government that meets the Nation’s values
and needs
• Can also establish community expectations for the governing body and set
out principles for how the governing body must act
Question to consider:
What are our current institutions of government and what should they be in the
6. Law enactment
• Sets out the authority of particular institutions to make laws or by-laws
• Can set out how laws or by-laws are initiated (e.g., by the governing body or
by citizens through a petition etc.) and actually made (e.g., the procedures –
how many readings, or if they have to be presented to or voted on by
citizens etc.)
• Some laws or by-laws may have special requirements depending on the
source of authority for the law or by-law and this may be set out in the
Constitution (e.g., laws that deal with fundamental land matters)
Questions to consider:
How are laws enacted today? What procedures do we follow in making them?
How do we want to do this in the future?
7. Meetings
• Can set out rules as to when and how the governing body or the citizens
meet and a general requirement for holding meetings
• Rules regarding meetings are very important in providing accountability and
transparency of government
Questions to consider:
For what purposes are meetings required today and how effective are they?
For what purpose do we need meetings in the future and what, if any, rules
should govern those meetings? Does this need to be set out in the
8. Conflict of interest
• Can provide that the Nation will have rules that ensure the governing body
and others with decision-making powers are subject to conflict of interest
• The rules could be in the constitution itself or required to be in a law or
policy of the Nation
Questions to consider:
What conflict of interest rules do we have today? Do we need different rules?
And what, if any, rules should be in the constitution?
9. Financial administration
Ensures responsibility for protecting financial resources of the First Nation. This
is usually the governing body (e.g., chief and council)
Sets out principles and core provisions
May require the Nation to have a financial administration law addressing the
core provisions (e.g., required annual budget, deficit controls, restrictions on
expenditures, and periodic reporting requirements including the annual audit,
permitted investments, level of debt, penalties for breech etc.)
Questions to consider:
What financial administration laws/by-laws or polices do we currently have in place?
Are they meeting our needs? What should be provided for or actually included in
our constitution?
10. Adjudicatory Bodies
Depending on the type of governance structure being put in place and the
powers of the Nation, the constitution might include provisions for adjudicatory
This is particularly important when the Nation is responsible for aspects of the
administration of justice
Such provisions may establish that the governing body can establish bodies to,
for example, hear disputes, or set up the institutions of justice in the constitution
Questions to consider:
What type of dispute resolution methods do we use today? What type of disputes
will need to be addressed in the future? Who will be responsible for adjudicating
disputes? What type of bodies might we need to establish to hear and if necessary
adjudicate disputes?
11. Referendums
• Sets out the requirements for holding a community referendum
• Process and procedure may be similar to the process for holding of elections
and would typically be set out in a separate law
• May be different thresholds for different types of decisions
• There should normally be an appeal procedure
Questions to consider:
What rules do we follow today when making decisions as a community? If we
hold community votes what rules do we follow? Are these rules meeting our
needs? What rules, if any, should be in the constitution?
12. Transitional Provisions
• Given that the constitution of a Nation will supersede and replace any
structure of governance that preceded it, transitional provisions may be
• Might include rules allowing for the continuance of the previous governing
body until the new governing body is selected in accordance with the
• May allow for certain parts of the constitution to be phased into effect
Questions to consider:
How and when would our constitution be implemented (e.g., part of selfgovernment arrangements, treaty, or is it independent of any negotiations with
Canada)? What parts of the constitution should come into effect immediately
or be delayed?
13. Amendment
• All constitutions have amending provisions
• Usually a constitution will be amended in the same way it was initially
– For example: by a referendum of the citizens where 50% plus 1 of those electors
voting in the referendum vote in favour of the amendments
• The provisions will include how amendments can be initiated
– For example: by a citizens’ petition, by the governing body, etc.
Questions to consider:
What threshold should be used to approve an amendment to the constitution?
Who should be permitted to initiate an amendment to the constitution?
Some Lessons
Learned from other Nations
Keep it simple
• Do not have overly prescriptive rules in the constitution
• Remember the constitution will be harder to change than most other laws
• Keep the language simple and clear– use people that know how to draft
Be Creative
• No one size constitution fits all circumstances, so avoid ‘cookie-cutter’ approaches and be
wary of borrowing too much from others
• Look to your own conventions, practices and traditions first
• The community will decide the content of the constitution not its advisors
Ensure community involvement
• Ensure there is an open and inclusive process. Look to the best ways to involve all parts of
the community and to create safe spaces for resolving any controversial issues
Take your time
• Do not rush the development of the constitution
• It is too important
When can we develop a constitution?
• Constitutions are developed by our Nations as part of a comprehensive selfgovernment initiative (whether inside or outside of the BC treaty-making
• Many of the core elements of constitutions are found and developed
through Indian Act or sectoral governance initiatives:
― For example: custom election codes, membership codes, section 81 by-laws, etc.
under the Indian Act
― For example: institutions of governance and financial management under a land
codes under the First Nations Framework Agreement on Land Management or
the Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
• Constitutions can be developed outside of a comprehensive self-government
When can we develop a constitution?
The “Just do it” approach:
• A Nation does not have to wait until they have a self-government agreement
with Canada or are part of a sectoral governance initiative to develop a
• The “just do it” approach has proven a very powerful exercise for some
Nations although there are some risks:
– For example: some citizens and others governed by the constitution may not
recognize its authority given the continued application of the Indian Act and
other federal laws
• There is a need to develop a mechanism so that when a First Nation, or a
group of First Nations, develops and adopts a constitution as ratified by its
citizens, those First Nations would be able to remove themselves from a
significant portion of the Indian Act and be recognized as a ‘self-governing’

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