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[T]he power to control their destinies as Aboriginal peoples, to maintain control over their self-definition, must be fundamental, for otherwise we could imagine a people being constructed by another. If Aboriginal communities lose the power to control their self-definition they lose themselves—they effectively become “another.”[1]

Aboriginal law disputes, by their very nature, are disputes that arise in the spaces between Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies.[2] Many of these disputes are decided under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982,[3] which constitutionalizes the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples within Canada. In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the “grand purpose” of section 35 is the reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples within Canada.[4] To date, the Court has resolved Aboriginal law disputes by relying heavily on the common law to the exclusion of Indigenous legal traditions and principles. In this article, I argue that applying a bijural interpretation of the principle of respect[5] provides a promising pathway forward for resolving Aboriginal law disputes in a way that supports the grand purpose of section 35—reconciliation.[6]

I. Scope and Limitations

A bijural principle of respect can be useful to guide the development of Aboriginal law jurisprudence and to deal with Aboriginal law disputes more appropriately. Before launching into my substantive discussion, I want to address two perceived limitations. The first limitation is that my focus on the Canadian legal system might seem to support a state-centric approach to the resolution of Aboriginal law disputes. Taking a state-centric approach, however, is not my purpose. Rather, in focusing on the Canadian legal system, I heed John Borrows’ call to make non-Indigenous institutions more fully reflective of the Indigenous cultures and legal traditions that have helped shape Canada.[7] I am also mindful of Taiaiake Alfred’s warning that non-Indigenous people should be wary of positing ideas and solutions that might be imposed upon Indigenous communities and peoples to “solve” their problems.[8] Instead of positioning Indigenous peoples as “the problem,” I focus on the Canadian legal system itself as the problem. I start from the position that non-Indigenous people need to interrogate their own complicity and the structure of their own institutions to determine the ways in which they support the oppression of Indigenous communities.[9]

Despite my focus on the Canadian legal system, I acknowledge that the establishment of separate, culturally appropriate Indigenous justice systems is ideal. Indigenous communities, however, need time to design and establish Indigenous legal institutions, as well as to build capacity and gather resources to support the ongoing functioning of these institutions once they are established. In the meantime, reforms to the Canadian justice system are necessary to create more justice and support reconciliation when Aboriginal law disputes come before Canadian judges. Revitalizing Indigenous legal structures and reforming the Canadian justice system need not be seen as either-or propositions. As Mary Ellen Turpel writes,

[w]e spent several years in a distracting debate over whether justice reform involves separate justice systems or reforming the mainstream justice system. This is a false dichotomy and fruitless distinction because it is not an either/or choice. The impetus for change can better be described as getting away from ... colonialism and domination. Resisting colonialism means a reclaiming by Aboriginal Peoples of control of the resolution of disputes and jurisdiction over justice, but it is not as simple or as quick as that sounds. Moving in this direction will involve many linkages.[10]

Turpel makes clear that reforming the Canadian criminal justice system does not detract from the project of revitalizing Indigenous legal traditions. Consistent with Turpel’s view, the aim of this article is to make some suggestions on ways to reform the Canadian justice system’s approach to Aboriginal law cases until such time as more culturally appropriate dispute resolution mechanisms are in place.

The second limitation in advocating for a bijural interpretation of the principle of respect is that in order to create an understanding based on both Indigenous and non-Indigenous theories, I engage with some non-Indigenous theories that have been historically discriminatory toward Indigenous peoples. I could have focused solely on Indigenous ideas of respect to the exclusion of historically oppressive Eurocentric theories. The purpose of this article, however, is to think constructively about the space between Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies and how best to manage interactions and disputes that may arise within that space. As such, I focus on drawing ideas from both intellectual traditions to see if there is a way that a bijural interpretation of the principle of respect can support a constructive rebuilding of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples within Canada.

II. Substantive Content of a Bijural Principle of Respect

For the purposes of my discussion, I focus on respect in two contexts: respect for persons and respect between cultural groups. I discuss the effect of the historically disrespectful and dehumanizing treatment of Indigenous peoples on the individual self-respect of community members. I engage with Indigenous and non-Indigenous theories of respect and conclude that a bijural conception of respect that draws on both Indigenous and non-Indigenous theories is dynamic, expansive, and appropriate to help resolve Aboriginal law disputes in constructive ways. I conclude by suggesting that a bijural conception of respect can be implemented by embracing attitudinal shifts and practical actions that include making relationships and responsibilities to one another primary, rejecting colonial attitudes and stereotypes, and creating jurisdictional and territorial space for Indigenous communities to express and foster cultural difference.

I have structured my discussion of the substantive content of the principle of respect as follows:

  • The What? What is respect? What are its central characteristics? How might conceptions of respect differ in Indigenous and non-Indigenous theory and law?

  • The Why? Why should people engage the principle of respect in the context of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples? Are there moral imperatives that support the implementation of a bijural principle of respect in such relationships?

  • And finally, the How? How might a bijural principle of respect be implemented concretely to provide a way forward in the complex relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples within Canada?

A. The What?

The concept of respect has been the topic of great theoretical inquiry over the years with many attempts to elucidate its meaning. Respect can be generally understood as an attitude, a way of treating something or someone that involves a kind of valuing. Respect involves perceiving something as worthy of a special kind of attention.[11] It may embody both positive aspects of treating a person or thing as valuable and worthy, as well as negative aspects of avoiding “degrading or insulting or injuring or interfering with” other people or valued objects.[12]

1. Non-Indigenous Theories of Respect

The modern idea of respect for persons includes a human rights view that stresses each person’s intrinsic value as a member of the human community. In the Western tradition, this view originated with Immanuel Kant’s philosophy,[13] in which he held that the moral law requires that people be treated with respect because people are ends in themselves. In Kant’s view, people are entitled to respect because they are rational, autonomous moral agents, and this fact grounds their intrinsic value.[14] A person’s moral task is to develop his (or her) rational, autonomous capacity, while other people are required to refrain from doing anything to detract from this task.[15]

According to this view, all people are entitled to respect on the basis of their common humanity (respect for persons).[16] Respect is due to the person as a person based on a particular feature considered worthy of this attitude. As such, respect is generalizable to include other people who also share this feature.[17] If one has a view that a person is worthy of respect on the basis of his or her humanity (or on the basis of his or her ability to rationalize, or to make moral decisions, or on another basis), all people are worthy of respect on this same basis. Respect for persons therefore creates a baseline for justifying respect—a reason for demonstrating respect based solely on the fact that one belongs to the human community (rather than based on other factors such as the person’s merit or accomplishments).[18]

It is worth noting that Kant’s theory of respect coded the rational, autonomous subject as both white and male.[19] His theory explicitly excluded women and non-white people on the basis that neither women nor non-white people were complex persons capable of reasoning and rationality. This white, male definition of a rational, autonomous subject therefore deliberately excluded Indigenous peoples and was one of many Eurocentric theories used to justify colonial practices and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples in colonial contexts.[20]

Despite the historical exclusion of Indigenous peoples from the definition of persons entitled to respect offered by Kant and other modern thinkers, many contemporary non-Indigenous scholars have contributed constructive ideas about how non-Indigenous theories support an understanding of respect that would promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Contemporary theorists have evolved the idea of respect for persons to be inclusive and to emphasize the importance of interdependence[21] and situatedness[22] within communities. So although one might be inclined not to use non-Indigenous theories of respect to dismantle colonial attitudes and structures in the context of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, non-Indigenous theories have evolved significantly since Kant’s era and recent theorists have contributed useful ideas for the purposes of articulating a bijural interpretation of respect.

In addition to critiquing Kant’s exclusion of women and non-white people from the definition of persons entitled to respect, some theorists raise further criticisms of the limits of Kant’s theory: first, the idea of respect for persons is an abstract proposition until it is actually put into action in relationship with another;[23] and second, this theory does not address the way respect might take account of each person’s particular identity, situatedness, and specificity.[24] Because putting the abstract proposition of respect for persons into action requires interaction with other people, engaging in this type of respect involves deliberating about its meaning in relationship with someone else and deciding what conduct is appropriate in that relationship.[25] In the context of cross-cultural relationships, the conception of respect as embedded in relationships means that interacting with cross-cultural others is central to understanding the principle of respect.

Recognizing a person’s history, identity, and personal story is also important in any conception of respect. Seyla Benhabib argues that all theories of respect must seriously acknowledge “difference, alterity and ... the standpoint of the ‘concrete other’.”[26] This recognition of the concrete other means that respect must include the understanding that there is a difference between myself and someone else—that I see the world in different ways than other people do because of the ways my particular experiences have shaped my identity.

In the context of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, respect must acknowledge the different experiences Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples have had within Canada. Any conception of the principle of respect must acknowledge the difficult history of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, the legacy of oppression, and the power dynamics that influence the current realities of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Respect must also take account of different experiences among Indigenous peoples (i.e., First Nations, Métis, and Inuit), as well as the particular experiences of each individual Indigenous and non-Indigenous person.

Charles Taylor asserts that any theories based on the absence of differentiation in the context of equal freedom or respect leave a very small margin for the recognition of difference or distinct cultural identities.[27] He therefore advocates taking an open stance toward cross-cultural others to learn about aspects of different cultures worthy of respect and valuing.[28] According to Taylor’s view, respect needs to account for the particular identities of individuals and their situatedness within communities.

The reality of people’s lives is nuanced, contextual, and requires attention to differences between individuals. Within the Canadian constitutional framework, Indigenous peoples are entitled to different treatment, recognized in the particular constitutionalized protections of Aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35. As Brent Olthuis argues, “[t]he doctrine of Aboriginal rights was born and finds continued sustenance in the reconciliation of inter-societal normative difference.”[29] This intersocietal normative difference, I would argue, is not only due to cultural differences but also to historical differences (that Indigenous peoples lived in what is now Canada first) and jurisdictional differences (that Indigenous peoples exercised sovereignty prior to the arrival of European others).[30] The principle of respect therefore needs to provide enough flexibility to account for the differential treatment of Indigenous communities—treatment that recognizes Indigenous communities’ historical entitlements to land and governance authority as well as their particular identities as shaped by their specific histories, locations, and geographies.

For the purposes of this discussion, Robin Dillon’s theory of “care respect” is useful, as it highlights, like many Indigenous theories of respect, the importance of interdependence.[31] Care respect involves a commitment to attend to others with “intensely focused perception”[32] and to pay attention to all aspects of each person’s particularity within his or her concrete context.[33] Dillon describes the core attitude of care respect as “cherishing, a form of respect that involves profoundness of feeling, treasuring, warm regard, solicitous concern.”[34] This attitude requires active engagement between people and responsiveness to each other’s needs.[35]

Care respect not only involves a responsibility to avoid degrading, insulting, and harming others, but it also includes positive responsibilities to contribute in constructive ways to other people’s existence.[36] This conception of respect requires “a determination to discover, forge, repair, and strengthen connections among persons in ways that benefit all of us.”[37] Dillon asserts that care respect values both individuality and interdependence, and that it joins people in a community of mutual concern and mutual aid.[38] Care respect therefore provides room for generalized respect for persons (acknowledgement of sameness among people) while also providing a means to acknowledge difference between people due to its focused attention on each person’s identity and particularity.[39]

Theories that emphasize the importance of learning about the specificity and particular identity of cross-cultural others are useful in the context of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The importance of learning about the perspectives, values, traditions, and laws of cross-cultural others may lead to a widening of perspectives and transformative learning across cultures. Through this type of interaction, people from different cultural contexts may transform their own understandings of what constitutes respectful relations, and therefore contribute to the creation of a better society.

2. Indigenous Theories of Respect

There is a great diversity of Indigenous cultures within Canada, and theories of respect are heavily dependent on the cultural, social, and political context from which they arise. Although there is a danger in generalizing across the rich and diverse Indigenous cultures within Canada, Indigenous theorists point to some commonalities among Indigenous legal traditions and philosophies relating to the principle of respect. For the purposes of this section, I do not claim to provide an authoritative account of Indigenous theories of respect. Rather, I sketch some of the central characteristics of these theories to examine similarities and differences in interpreting the principle of respect.

Just as non-Indigenous theories support the concept of respect for persons, so do Indigenous philosophies. Dale Turner notes, for example, that the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee peoples holds that “a human being possesses intrinsic value and ought to be accorded respect.”[40] One must recognize therefore that others “have the right to speak their mind and to choose for themselves how to act in the world.”[41] Similarly, Alfred notes that “[t]he freedom and power that come with understanding and living a life of indigenous integrity are experienced by people in many different ways, and respect must be shown to the need for individuals to find their way according to their own vision.”[42] Like the non-Indigenous theories discussed above, this view of respect highlights the fact that people are entitled to create their own vision of how to live their life and to make their own choices in turning that vision into a reality.

Another aspect of Indigenous ideas of respect includes an explicit recognition of respect among all members of Indigenous communities, including women, men, youth, and Elders. Yet, “[w]hile many Indigenous societies have principles about gender relations,”[43] it is important to note that “there is a widespread disjuncture between these ideals and everyday gender norms and practices” within Indigenous communities.[44] Similarly, while there are principles regarding the inclusion of youth and Elders within community decision-making structures, these may or may not be implemented in an ideal way in various communities. I mention this reality not to pass any judgment, but rather to highlight that many of the principles underlying both Indigenous and non-Indigenous legal systems describe idealistic notions of community rather than the actual implementation of such principles. Even as idealistic notions, however, these theories provide a useful starting point for discussing what a bijural principle of respect might be.

Despite apparent similarities to non-Indigenous theories of respect, Indigenous understandings of respect include the explicit recognition that respect takes place and is defined by responsibilities to the larger cultural community. Gordon Christie asserts that “[r]esponsibilities act to define a core of the identity of the individual, just as the existence of a society centred around responsibilities defines the identity of Aboriginal communities.”[45] In the Haudenosaunee tradition, for example, there is a high emphasis placed on using one’s talents to the benefit of the community.[46] Similarly, in the Anishinabek tradition, there is a strong emphasis on responsibilities in the context of respecting others. Indeed, “Anishinabek peoples have obligations (daebizitawaugaewin) to their families and community: to support them, to help them prosper, and to exercise their rights to live and work.”[47] Finally, in the Cree tradition, miyo-wicehtowin “requires Cree peoples as individuals and as a nation to conduct themselves in a manner such that they create positive good relations in all relationships”;[48] this concept includes the idea that people have positive obligations to support and assist others.[49] These examples demonstrate that embedded within many Indigenous theories of respect is the positive responsibility that people support others, work to maintain positive relationships, and contribute their abilities for the benefit of the community.

Another key feature of Indigenous conceptions of respect is that members of Indigenous communities are taught respect through the transmission of stories, communal values, and teachings. Christie notes that due to their experiences over millennia, Indigenous peoples have worked out the broad strokes of how to lead a good life. These visions of how to live respectfully with other beings have been worked out “from a combination of wisdom gleaned from mythological time and thousands of years spent reflecting on the best ways to live.”[50] As such, there is a shared philosophical vision of the good life within Indigenous communities. This shared vision is based not only on rational, intellectual grounds but also on “the ‘feel’ and beauty of the truth of the assertion” and on the “connections of this assertion to established ways of living ... laid down by ‘original instructions’ and bolstered by the wisdom of those of experience and reflection.”[51] Indigenous peoples have refined this vision over time using storytelling as well as reflective, sensory, and communal resources to provide a system of belief that gives “essential guidance in the task of living good lives” for both individuals and communities.[52] Much of this learning takes place through direct observation and experiences out on the land in relationships with family members and Elders.[53]

Additionally, Indigenous conceptions of respect may differ from non-Indigenous philosophies in that Indigenous theories hold that a broader range of beings are entitled to a generalized respect. These beings include persons and also non-human entities, animate and inanimate. As the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) notes, “[m]any Aboriginal people, particularly those adhering to traditional ways, accord respect to all members of the circle of life—to animals, plants, waters and unseen forces, as well as human beings.”[54] John Paul Lederach asserts that Indigenous peoples have a

seemingly innate capacity to imagine themselves in relationship not only with the human community but also with everything that surrounds them in the animate and inanimate world. The earth, the rocks, the trees, the sky, the air, the fish, the bear, the deer—all speak to them. ... The marvel for indigenous people is not that rocks speak. It is that they, as a human community, retained a capacity to hear the rocks sing.[55]

Similarly, E. Richard Atleo (Umeek) asserts that the Nuu-chah-nulth aspired “to live, albeit not always successfully, as though personal and community well-being is dependent on, and must be inclusive of, all reality, including water, land, plants, animals, humans, and, indeed, anything that seems to be alive.”[56] Rather than focusing exclusively on the ways in which animals, plants, water, and land can be exploited for the benefit of human beings, Indigenous philosophies consider animate and inanimate beings in decision-making processes.[57] This concept of respect for all life forms therefore stands in stark opposition to non-Indigenous views of land and resources as exploitable commodities.

Indigenous conceptions of respect also include the humble recognition of one’s place within all of creation. Alfred argues that Indigenous peoples “are rooted in the recognition and respect of sensitivity to one’s place in creation and awareness of one’s place in a circle of integrity.”[58] This humble recognition supports the view that all life forms are entitled to equal respect. As Oren Lyons asserts,

[i]t has been the mandate of our people to look after the welfare of the land and its life. Central to this responsibility is a recognition and respect for the equality of all the elements of life on this land. Recognition and respect for the equality of all elements of life is necessary because it brings us into perspective as human beings. If all life is considered equal, then we are no more or no less than anything else. Therefore, all life must be respected. Whether it is a tree, a deer, a fish, or a bird, it must be respected because it is equal.[59]

Since many Indigenous philosophies feature a respect for all life, such philosophies are focused on “relationships of connection to the land and each other.”[60] Much like care respect described above, the focus is on interdependence and connectedness rather than on individuality and separation.

Indigenous theories of respect are also broader than non-Indigenous theories in that Indigenous theories accord respect to past and future generations. Alfred asserts: “We have to refer to both the past and the future in our decision-making. This is where we get the concept of the ‘seven generations’: we’re supposed to be listening to our grandfathers, our ancestors, but we also need to listen to the grandfathers yet to come.”[61] Respecting one’s ancestors and future generations is one of the conditions under which Indigenous peoples believe their lands were given to them by the Creator.[62]

In the context of relationships between societies, Indigenous theories and philosophies require the negotiation of agreements to take place in ways that respect appropriate cultural protocols. One such agreement is embodied in the Two Row Wampum, which envisioned two boats travelling alongside one another with the understanding that neither Indigenous nor non-Indigenous parties to the agreement would interfere in the other’s internal affairs.[63] Osennontion, a Mohawk woman, argues: “It should be said that when we were given our own ways to life, we were never given a government for any others but ourselves, and to this day, we maintain our end of the original agreement to co-exist, not to impose our ways on others.”[64] This is just one example of an early treaty that exemplifies Indigenous conceptions of respect, which place a high value on negotiating mutually agreeable terms to manage intersocietal relationships.

To summarize, Indigenous theorists point to a broader conception of respect that includes within the group entitled to respect not only human beings but also non-human entities. Moreover, Indigenous worldviews include past and future generations within their broader visions of respectful relationships. Such worldviews include a notion of mutuality that involves reciprocal responsibilities for people and other beings taking part in respectful relationships. In addition, failing to abide by appropriate respectful protocols and behaviours may result in negative consequences. Indigenous theories also emphasize the importance of responsibilities to others and of using one’s own talents and skills to contribute to the benefit of the larger community. Further, these theories highlight the importance of negotiation processes that respect cultural protocols aimed at setting out terms to manage intersocietal relationships effectively. Having sketched out some key ideas from Indigenous and non-Indigenous theories in this section, I now turn to a discussion of why a bijural principle of respect is important in moving Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples toward reconciliation.

B. The Why?

There are several reasons why it would be valuable for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to implement a bijural conception of respect as a guiding principle in their ongoing relationships. First, there has been a significant amount of harm created due to a lack of respect toward Indigenous communities, which has had a negative impact on both individual and collective identities. Indeed, the harm and damage inflicted upon Indigenous peoples within Canada is tantamount to the denial of Indigenous peoples’ cultural identity and inherent value. The related imperative for implementing the principle of respect is therefore the rectification of harm and the rebuilding of healthy communities.

Second, the lack of respect for Indigenous communities on a social and political level can lead to an internalization of disrespect on a personal level. In turn, this internalized disrespect can erupt into violence against oneself or in close personal relationships, which can have negative impacts on the health of Indigenous communities.

Third, living together in respect is central to rebuilding relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples on a morally sound basis. There exist both the potential and the need to restructure these relationships on a more just and legitimate footing, and the principle of respect forms an essential part of this restructuring. I discuss each of these three reasons in more detail below.

1. Canada’s History of Disrespect Toward Indigenous Peoples

For much of Canada’s history, disrespect has characterized the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.[65] The disrespect shown toward Indigenous communities manifested, and continues to manifest, both on an individual and collective level. Successive governments implemented policies, sanctioned by law, aimed at devaluing and destroying Indigenous identities and cultures within Canada. The federal government’s intent in 1920 as expressed by Duncan Campbell Scott, then Deputy Minister of the Indian Department, was “to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.”[66] The Canadian government’s policies of assimilation purposefully denigrated Indigenous cultures, degraded Indigenous peoples, and distanced Indigenous peoples from their communities. The forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples included breaking down the cultural ways of such peoples, physically separating family members from one another, and instilling Eurocentric ways “through repetitive drills and exercises in schools, factories, prisons and armies.”[67]

European colonizers justified the taking of Indigenous lands as their own by characterizing Indigenous cultures as uncivilized and primitive. This taking of lands needed justification because at the time of colonization, international law did not allow for the claiming of lands occupied by other sovereign nations.[68] In order to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their lands, therefore, European colonizers needed to create a theory that supported the application of European laws in territories outside of their nations’ borders.[69] The theory thus created equated sovereignty and nationhood with civilization, and deliberately positioned Indigenous peoples outside of this definition.[70]

Eurocentric notions of cultural superiority posited European cultures as further along the evolutionary scale than Indigenous cultures.[71] In this view, “all cultures and peoples are mapped hierarchically in accordance with their location on a historical process of progressive development.”[72] European societies and institutions were characterized as the highest and most developed on the scale, while Indigenous peoples were considered primitive, savage, and uncivilized.[73] European institutions were also seen as universal and reasonable in contrast to Indigenous societies, which were seen as primitive and childlike.[74]

As such, efforts to Christianize and Europeanize Indigenous peoples were constructed as benevolent. As James Tully argues, colonizers “saw themselves as enlightened guardians who were preparing lower, childlike and pre-consensual peoples for a superior, modern life; in this way they could regard the destruction of other cultures with moral approval.”[75] By viewing Indigenous peoples and cultures as merely at a lower stage of human development, European powers could justify the violent and unequal treatment of Indigenous peoples in the colonies.

The policies of assimilation legally implemented in Canada included compulsory enfranchisement provisions under the Indian Act,[76] whereby First Nations women who married non-Indigenous men lost their status.[77] Other laws were enacted that prohibited raising money for Aboriginal legal claims from 1927 to 1951, and also prohibited cultural ceremonies such as the potlatch and the tamanawas from 1884 to 1951.[78] The residential school system, in which Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families, was imposed on Indigenous peoples, and its legacy continues to have destructive intergenerational consequences for entire communities.[79]

By theorizing Indigenous inferiority without understanding Indigenous cultures, colonizers made generalizations based on harmful, inaccurate stereotypes. The process of stereotyping “denies the inherent complexity of every individual’s identity, reducing him or her to a mere cipher for the group, to whom a negative enemy-image can then all too easily be attached.”[80] These stereotypes justified the inhumane treatment of Indigenous peoples by colonial authorities and non-Indigenous people.

Unfortunately, these discriminatory attitudes have also surfaced in court decisions. For example, in the heavily criticized British Columbia Supreme Court decision in Delgamuukw, Chief Justice McEachern stated that the Gitxsan and Wetsuweten’s “ancestors had no written language, no horses or wheeled vehicles, slavery and starvation were not uncommon, wars with neighbouring peoples were common, and there is no doubt, to quote Hobbes, that aboriginal life in the territory was, at best, ‘nasty, brutish and short.’”[81] Although this decision was reversed and the above comments were rejected at both the British Columbia Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada, it is disconcerting, to say the least, that a judge within the Canadian court system would include a comment in 1991 that so vociferously denigrates Indigenous cultures.[82]

Disrespectful attitudes toward Indigenous peoples have also engendered both a disregard for and mischaracterization of Indigenous governance structures and legal systems. The disregard manifests itself in the assumption that such governance structures and legal systems may have been used in the distant past but are unable to address the circumstances facing Indigenous communities in the present day.[83] The mischaracterization surfaces in the allusion to Indigenous institutions and legal systems as idyllic and utopian, with no negative features.[84] As Val Napoleon and Hadley Friedland assert, Indigenous institutions and legal structures are useful to deal with contemporary disputes because they are a particular response by reasoning people to universal human issues.[85] The devaluation of Indigenous institutions and legal systems contributes to their continued marginalization and dissuades critical engagement with the ideology, principles, and application of Indigenous legal systems in the present day.

2. Internalizing Disrespect: Indigenous Identities and Self-Respect

Disrespectful and dehumanizing attitudes toward Indigenous peoples were justified through the construction of stereotypical and inaccurate representations of Indigenous identities and cultures. Frantz Fanon has eloquently described the violence that results internally for colonized peoples as a result of the imposition of inaccurate colonially constructed Indigenous identities:

And then the occasion arose when I had to meet the white man’s eyes. An unfamiliar weight burdened me. The real world challenged my claims. In the white world the man of color encounters difficulties in the development of his bodily schema. Consciousness of the body is solely a negating activity. It is a third-person consciousness. The body is surrounded by an atmosphere of certain uncertainty. ...

[A]nd I was battered down by tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency, fetishism, racial defects.

I took myself far off from my own presence. ... What else could it be for me but an amputation, an excision, a hemorrhage that spattered my whole body with black blood?[86]

Here, Fanon graphically describes the negative effects of the imposition of colonial stereotypes on his identity and physical experience. The imposition of negative stereotypes on cross-cultural others arises from the erection of imaginative boundaries between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples. Such boundaries justify a physical distancing between cross-cultural groups and results from a refusal to put the self into question.[87]

The disrespectful, dehumanizing treatment of Indigenous communities has a direct impact on the development of Indigenous peoples’ individual notions of self-respect. Taylor argues that one’s sense of identity develops in the context of relationships with others, which can affect the development of self-respect both positively and negatively.[88] Dillon describes self-respect as “a complex of multiply layered and interpenetrating phenomena that compose a certain way of being in the world, a way of being whose core is a deep appreciation of one’s morally significant worth.”[89] In her view, self-respect requires both intellectual and experiential appreciation of one’s worth;[90] in other words, it is not enough to know on an intellectual level that you are worthy of respect, it is actually necessary to feel that sense of being valued and worthy.[91] In the context of oppressed communities whose identities are constructed as less valuable and less worthy, it may be difficult for some members of those communities to develop both intellectual and emotional aspects of positive self-respect.

Self-respect has also been linked to the respect accorded to cultural groups at a political level. Taylor notes that the respect for group identities can shape the development of self-respect of members within those particular groups.[92] He argues:

Equal recognition is not just the appropriate mode for a healthy democratic society. Its refusal can inflict damage on those who are denied it, according to a widespread modern view. ... The projection of an inferior or demeaning image on another can actually distort and oppress, to the extent that image is internalized.[93]

Taylor’s statement highlights the link between respect among social groups and how the giving or withholding of respect can affect the development of self-respect.

Dillon also asserts that the political and social positioning of groups significantly affects self-respect.[94] The importance of political recognition in the development of self-respect is central in her view, as “damaged self-respect is integrally connected with oppression.”[95] She argues:

The source of some damage to self-respect is an implicit interpretive framework of self-perception whose organizing motif is worthlessness. And this framework ... is not a private phenomenon but is a feature of the historical and sociopolitical situatedness of individuals. Self-respect may be damaged not because individuals fail to have appropriate thoughts and emotions but because they fail to have an appropriate situation, one that would support the construction of a basal framework for positive valuation.[96]

Dillon notes that self-respect on an individual level “is constituted by and reflects prevailing forms of social and political life.”[97] Self-respect is “constructed in and by social, cultural, and political contexts, which for many categories of persons are contexts of oppression.”[98] In Dillon’s view, ameliorating damaged self-respect requires work on a personal, emotional level but, in addition, improving the prevailing socio-political contexts may yield improved self-understandings and an improved level of self-respect.[99]

In the context of Indigenous communities within Canada, the RCAP also highlights the link between respect at the political level and self-respect. The RCAP concludes that

[p]eople can be active and responsible members of their communities only if they have a sense of their own worth and the conviction that what they say and do in both the public and the private sphere can make a significant contribution. However, this sense of self-respect is based in part on society’s recognition of the value of an individual’s activities and goals. A multinational society that treats the culture of a member nation with derision or contempt may well undermine the self-respect of people belonging to that culture.[100]

The RCAP emphasizes the close link between recognition at the collective level and feelings of self-respect at the individual level.

A lack of recognition at the political level can negatively impact the self-perception of those belonging to marginalized communities. Fanon stresses the way in which violence in the colonial relationship can be internalized by those belonging to cultures that are denigrated and oppressed.[101] As such, members of colonized communities internalize the devaluing messages and may turn the violence they experience toward themselves or others in close personal relationships. Violence within Indigenous communities, such as violence against women, “is connected to larger social structures of inequality within any society” and “is therefore intimately linked with the broader colonial context.”[102] Lack of respect at a political and cultural level may damage Indigenous peoples’ self-respect and contribute to social problems present in some Indigenous communities. One imperative for implementing the principle of respect is therefore to rectify the harm disrespect causes at an individual level, and thereby contribute to the health of Indigenous communities at the collective level.

3. Restructuring the Relationship to Live Together in Respect

Indigenous peoples have approached relationships with non-Indigenous people and governments by applying Indigenous principles of respect. The early treaties provide a useful example of the development of intersocietal agreements that embodied the ideal of living together in respect. In the negotiation of the early treaties, each side observed ceremonies from both colonial and Indigenous traditions to solidify the terms of the agreement.[103] Although the two sides to the early treaties may have had different motivations—securing military alliances for the colonizers and ensuring that their cultural, territorial, and national integrity remained intact for Indigenous peoples—such agreements were based on an imperfect yet palpable sense of mutual respect.

Even though Indigenous peoples have taken up respect in complicated ways and respect has operated unevenly throughout the colonial encounter, Indigenous peoples have historically approached relationship building with other societies (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) on the basis of respect. Indigenous peoples’ one-sided application of the principle of respect has created an imbalance in relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples that requires righting.

Implementing a bijural principle of respect that draws on the best ideas from Indigenous and non-Indigenous theories and law holds potential for reconciliation. There are many challenges, however, to implementing a bijural interpretation of the principle of respect to resolve Aboriginal law disputes. The basis of the Canadian legal system and many of the key premises upon which it relies stem from non-Indigenous, Eurocentric theories that were overtly hostile to Indigenous peoples. In fact, many theorists (myself included) argue that Canadian law continues to perpetuate and embody colonial assumptions in dealings with Aboriginal law disputes.[104] If Canadian law is colonial, it raises the question of whether and how it could take up respect in the context of Aboriginal law disputes. One answer is that non-Indigenous judges, lawyers, and people must engage in the difficult work of decolonizing ourselves—of interrogating our own complicity in the oppression of Indigenous communities and examining the various ways in which we continue to benefit from this oppression. We then need to examine the systemic biases within Canadian law and policy that operate (intentionally or unintentionally) to oppress Indigenous peoples. Only when we acknowledge our personal interests and the systemic biases of Canadian law can we begin to envision ways in which this bijural principle of respect could be operationalized within the Canadian legal system.

Engaging in this difficult work of decolonization necessarily requires that significant attitudinal shifts take place. It requires recognition of Indigenous peoples on a nation-to-nation basis, which in itself requires a questioning of the state-centric assumptions upon which Canadian law is based. What if we were to imagine a totally different reality in which both Canadian courts and Indigenous courts had jurisdiction to consider Aboriginal law disputes? In this scenario, it is possible to envision a situation where Canadian judges engage in legal analysis that acknowledges the unlawful taking of Indigenous lands and suppression of Indigenous jurisdiction, while at the same time asserting the jurisdiction of a Canadian court to rectify this imbalance through Canadian legal processes.[105] We could also imagine that such a decision would be considered through Indigenous legal processes and Indigenous decision makers could agree or disagree with that decision. What if we added the requirement that both Canadian and Indigenous courts would need to be in agreement for a decision to be binding? My point here is that there may be a way for Canadian law to shed its cloak of colonialism and apply a bijural interpretation of respect. To do so, however, would require significant changes and loosening the Canadian law’s tight grip of certainty about its superiority.

In my view, interrogating the complicity of the Canadian legal system (and the actors within it) in the oppression of Indigenous communities and reformulating the relationship between Canadian law and Indigenous legal traditions are prerequisites to requesting that Indigenous peoples respect the Canadian state and legal system. Until some monumental shifts in attitudes are made and significant restructuring of the institutions and relationships has taken place, it is entirely reasonable for Indigenous peoples to question whether Canadian institutions deserve Indigenous peoples’ respect. Despite justifiable caution in placing trust in the Canadian legal system on the part of Indigenous peoples, however, Indigenous conceptions of respect do make room for respect across cultural boundaries for institutions and practices that differ in form and substance. I would venture to guess that if non-Indigenous people made the leap to challenge their complicity, reformulated relationships, and redistributed power between Indigenous peoples and themselves, at least some Indigenous peoples might consider re-engaging with non-Indigenous people and institutions in pursuit of reconciliation.

There are many advantages to be gained from shifting from a relationship characterized by disrespect to one based on respect, cooperation, and interdependence.[106] In addition to increasing the capacity and health of Indigenous peoples both individually and collectively through the creation of social and political conditions that support positive self-respect, implementing the principle of respect in relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples would prioritize proactive, constructive collaboration over adversarial, destructive conflicts.

For example, in the area of litigation, if the Canadian government were to create a neutral mediation body that tried to proactively deal with disputes prior to them going to litigation, and provide support for Indigenous leaders and government representatives to negotiate realistic solutions prior to escalation, many disputes may be resolved without recourse to the courts. Litigation is notoriously expensive, risky, and stressful. Diverting conflicts away from the court system may allow for more resources to be put into capacity building, negotiating mutually agreeable courses of action, and managing intercultural relationships.

Implementing the principle of respect may also allow Indigenous peoples to focus on reclaiming and reconstructing Indigenous institutions and legal traditions from within. The onslaught of assimilationist policies has positioned Indigenous peoples in a defensive stance. Correspondingly, this stance has diverted Indigenous peoples’ attention away from proactively creating and implementing their visions of what they want their societies to be and how they want to express their cultural identities. Living together in respect would reduce the need for a defensive posture and provide a positive space for Indigenous peoples to live in accordance with their own sense of collective identity and values.

C. The How?

Reflecting on the history of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples within Canada suggests that the relationship to date has not been constructive and that conflicts will continue to bubble to the surface due to the dysfunction in the intercultural relationship. The first and most important precondition to implementing the principle of respect to restructure this relationship is therefore acknowledgement that the relationship needs to be improved. This acknowledgment supports the idea that the intercultural relationship needs to be restructured on a sounder basis, which includes implementing a bijural principle of respect.

One of the difficulties with this precondition is that at least some non-Indigenous people are likely to resist accepting responsibility for what has occurred and, concomitantly, that they have a role to play in repairing the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples within Canada. In the area of law and politics, it is common to hear the refrain “forgive and forget,”[107] which is unhelpful in moving toward reconciliation. Forgive and forget places an enormous burden on Indigenous peoples and lets non-Indigenous people off the hook for the harms caused to Indigenous jurisdiction, legal systems, lands, and peoples by successive colonial and Canadian governments. Rather, as Nicholas Frayling suggests, what is needed for reconciliation is to “remember and change.”[108] We need to carry the past carefully with us as we link arms with Indigenous peoples to create a vision of where we want to be and work together to move constructively from where we are now to where we want to be.

There will inevitably be non-Indigenous people who are unwilling to engage in critical self-reflection and act to rebuild damaged relationships with Indigenous peoples. Similarly, due to the enormous amount of (one-way) harm that has been inflicted on Indigenous peoples and communities, there will also be Indigenous peoples who are unwilling to engage with non-Indigenous people and institutions on the basis of respect. There will be some people in both groups, however, who will be willing to take the necessary steps to repair relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples on an individual and collective level. Importantly, it takes just a few committed, persistent individuals to start an avalanche of large-scale change. As Lederach notes, what matters is not the sheer number of persons working for change, but that the individuals themselves are positioned strategically. He asserts that what is needed is “a small set of the right people involved at the right places.”[109]

In addition to the precondition that there must be an acknowledgement that the relationship needs to be repaired and individuals willing to engage in actions to repair those relationships, I suggest that there are three starting points to begin transforming the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and put it on a more solid footing. These three starting points include both attitudinal shifts and concrete actions. The starting points are: (1) making our interdependence and responsibilities toward one another primary; (2) rejecting colonial attitudes and stereotypes; and (3) creating space to express and foster cultural difference.

1. Making Our Interdependence and Mutual Responsibilities Primary

A first way to implement the principle of respect is to make our interdependence and responsibilities toward one another primary.[110] Respect requires a shift in understanding from a perspective that we are valuable solely as individuals to one that recognizes that we all exist within a web of relationships. Rather than starting from the Eurocentric perspective that sees people as valuable because they have the capacity for rational, individualistic thought, we need to shift our perspective to understand that we are in fact constituted by our relationships with others. As Patricia Monture asserts, “I am because I know my name, my family, my clan, and my nation.”[111] Similarly, Jennifer Nedelsky argues that we need to recognize that “our essential humanity is neither possible nor comprehensible without the network of relationships of which it is a part.”[112] This relational understanding requires a paradigm shift from a consideration of not only what is best for oneself but also what is best for everyone else. It requires that people take a wide-angle, long-term view of the effects of decisions on everyone, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

In settings of protracted violence, John Paul Lederach asserts that recognizing the centrality of relationships is pivotal to constructive social change.[113] He asserts that we need to understand that “the well-being of our grandchildren is directly tied to the well-being of our enemy’s grandchildren.”[114] In Lederach’s view, conflict is embedded in relational spaces, networks, and connections, and, therefore, the solutions must emerge “from relational resources, connections and obligations.”[115] Intercultural relational spaces, therefore, need to be created in order to facilitate dialogue that might lead to appropriate processes for resolving disputes. The creation of such spaces might include ensuring that cultural protocols are followed at the beginning of meetings between Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders (such as inviting an Elder or Senator to open the meeting, inviting a drum group to open, and participating in sacred ceremonies). It might also include minimizing power imbalances by meeting on Indigenous territory rather than in a government building.[116]

Viewing our interdependence as primary corresponds with Indigenous perspectives that value all life forms. If solutions need to emerge from relational spaces, communication needs to occur within all relevant relationships. Atleo asserts that, according to Nuu-chah-nulth worldviews, humans can engage in dialogue with all life forms through the vision quest. The vision quest, called ?uusumč, enables people to “see beyond the purely physical reality of nature.”[117] The vision quest

also allowed [the Nuu-chah-nulth] to discover that creation is a unity in spite of its apparent fragmented appearance and contradictory nature. For example, although deer, wolf, and salmon are scientifically classified as animals within the biological dimension of existence and therefore as separate from humans, Nuu-chah-nulth peoples also know and experience these animals as quu?as, as people like themselves. The same is true of trees and the multitude of other life forms.

What this means is that Nuu-chah-nulth peoples had to find some way to live with these other quu?as who were recognized as life forms, as living beings who were originally part of one language and community.[118]

Finding ways to communicate with other life forms through vision quests enabled Nuu-chah-nulth peoples to establish respectful protocols for such interactions.[119]

The crucial idea stemming from Atleo’s description of the vision quest is the aspect of spiritual connection, which might also be understood as an emotional or embodied connection. In the context of the various life forms that make up our world, a prerequisite is spending more time physically in areas where other life forms live. Reconnecting with nature, therefore, constitutes a first important step to being alive to the various life forms with whom we are interrelated and upon whom our realities depend.

Once we accept our relationality as primary, the idea of responsibilities between all life forms make sense. If our well-being is bound up with the well-being of others, we have a responsibility to take good care of ourselves and of others. In this view, responsibilities to past and future generations also make sense. It is easy to understand, from a non-Indigenous perspective, that the quality of our grandchildren’s lives depends on the decisions we make today. It also becomes easier to understand how our past ancestors might be affected: we may do damage to their memory by making irresponsible decisions of which they would have disapproved.

Conceptualizing ourselves as embedded within a web of relationships made up of all life forms justifies the notion of mutual respect and responsibility among animate and inanimate beings. Making our interdependence and mutual responsibilities primary requires a radical shift in focus away from individualism toward an understanding of our embeddedness in a complex web of relationships. This complex web includes Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and other life forms across a wider expanse of time than non-Indigenous peoples are accustomed to considering.

2. Rejecting Colonial Attitudes and Stereotypes

The desire to control and assimilate is based on a negative view of Indigenous peoples and cultures. In order to rebuild relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples on the basis of respect, we need to reject colonial attitudes and the harmful stereotypes such attitudes engender.[120] Some ways in which to shift attitudes and jettison stereotypes include non-Indigenous people learning more about the history of relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples within Canada,[121] and learning about Indigenous peoples and cultural values by engaging with Indigenous peoples on a personal level.

Canada’s international reputation as a peaceful, democratic nation is a source of pride for many Canadians. Most Canadians, however, are sorely misinformed or completely ignorant about the history of colonialism and the impact that assimilationist policies and laws have had on Indigenous peoples within Canada. This ignorance continues to exist despite the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which documented survivors’ stories, held National Events and brought media attention to the Indian Residential School legacy.

Expressing genuine willingness to learn from Indigenous peoples is in itself a demonstration of respect.[122] Moreover, genuine interest in learning about Indigenous cultures affirms the value of such cultures. Iris Marion Young advocates modes of cross-cultural interaction such as greeting, rhetoric, and storytelling to craft a more comprehensive intercultural understanding.[123]

Non-Indigenous people might learn about Indigenous cultural values in attending Indigenous events. In doing so, it is imperative that non-Indigenous visitors to such events observe and listen respectfully to try and figure out what to do. They may have the important and uncomfortable experience of being the only person in the room who does not know how to act. This positioning as an outsider may create a transformative learning experience whereby non-Indigenous people might begin to understand some of the foreign experiences Indigenous peoples face when they participate in Canadian institutions, like schools, courts, and prisons. With increased exposure to Indigenous cultural events, non-Indigenous people may also start to understand the meanings associated with different cultural practices and ceremonies.

Attempting to understand (however imperfect that understanding might be) Indigenous peoples’ perspectives and cultural values is important for non-Indigenous peoples to be able to appropriately contextualize disputes that arise involving Aboriginal rights. Without attempts to understand Indigenous perspectives and cultures, the actions of Indigenous communities in living their laws through blockades, peaceful protests, and public demonstrations may be misunderstood and mischaracterized. As Wapshkaa Ma’iingan (Aaron Mills) points out, Indigenous communities participate in blockades and other public protests as an act of jurisdiction in accordance with the laws governing their peoples.[124] When this perspective is made explicit, one’s understanding of acts of protests shifts: instead of Indigenous peoples being seen as criminal, unruly, and unlawful, the blockades are reframed as a symptom of a clash of jurisdiction resulting from unresolved historical grievances. In other words, Indigenous protests and blockades take place because there has been a lack of respect in the relationship to date and the relationship is broken.

The willingness to learn from Indigenous peoples requires engagement on a personal level. Such engagement involves the ability and willingness to listen to the voices and accept the truths of Indigenous experiences.[125] More engagement will inevitably increase the amount of knowledge that non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples have about one another[126] and may increase the level of intercultural respect.[127] Napoleon and Friedland, for example, describe a story common to several Indigenous legal traditions, including the Gitksan, Cree, Taigish, and Secwepemc, about “a member of one group spending time with another people—human or animal—and returning with new knowledge that is incorporated into the practices and intellectual frameworks of his or her own people.”[128] A key message in these stories is that the experience of spending time with another group increases respect between the different peoples and/or animals.[129] Similarly, in the context of intersocietal human relationships, one of Wilson’s interview participants in his research on reconciliation in Ireland, Ms. Montague, asserts that

it’s very easy to have an enemy when you can’t see the enemy’s face. So, once there’s some kind of direct interaction and people meet one another on a face-to-face basis, the dynamics change. And it’s not as easy to hate, because the faceless monster on the other side of that wall has got my blue eyes or brown eyes, has a name, has a family—they are a person.[130]

Robin Wilson asserts that “the more we can not only know of others but also the more empathy we can feel with them, the less likely are we to be dependent on stereotyped representations in intercultural encounters.”[131] As a result, increasing intercultural contact is a key strategy necessary to deconstruct stereotypes.

Increased contact alone, however, is not enough. Wilson asserts that intercultural contact is only effective to deconstruct stereotypes when it is repeated and extended over time.[132] This extended contact is necessary because it takes time to build trust between people; they will only start to share stories about themselves after repeated contact. In addition, although repeated contact is necessary, it is not sufficient in itself without deeper engagement between people through dialogue. As Ms. Lynagh—another of Wilson’s interview participants—notes, mere contact “doesn’t shift anything—I could sit with you for hours and I wouldn’t have any greater understanding of your values, your beliefs, or I wouldn’t have any greater respect.”[133] As a result, extended, recurrent, high-quality engagement is what is necessary to deconstruct stereotypes and effectively change people’s attitudes.

It is important to note that non-Indigenous people who actively seek out interactions with Indigenous peoples need to take responsibility for their own learning. Historically, non-Indigenous people have relied on Indigenous peoples to educate them about Indigenous cultures and traditions. In order to engage meaningfully with Indigenous peoples, non-Indigenous allies must demonstrate that they are trustworthy, which requires a significant, long-term commitment and a stance of humility. Demonstrating you are trustworthy can occur in a variety of ways, ranging from having a well-respected Indigenous person vouch for you (which may fast track but does not guarantee trust), to consistently and persistently showing up to genuinely learn and engage with Indigenous peoples. Distrust is a natural starting point in relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Non-Indigenous people who want to engage with Indigenous peoples need to understand that they are responsible for demonstrating they are trustworthy through their thoughtful words and consistent actions.

In his legal historical study of early interactions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in North America, Jeremy Webber provides an example that supports the need for sustained, regular contact across cultures to produce increased understanding and respect. Webber notes that “[t]he intensity of [the] interaction [of early colonists] with Aboriginal peoples often generated a high level of mutual understanding and respect.”[134] Specifically, he noted that fur traders and missionaries, who had more contact with Indigenous peoples, had more solicitude toward Indigenous communities than agricultural settlers due to their respective amounts of interaction.[135] Webber notes that agricultural settlers had “few amicable contacts with Aboriginal peoples” and “little opportunity for discussion and exchange.”[136] In addition, agricultural settlement created more conflicts over lands between settlers and Indigenous peoples, which increased the likelihood that settlers would have negative cross-cultural experiences. Higher amounts of personal interaction between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples may therefore increase the amount of respect between cultures.

3. Creating Space to Express and Foster Cultural Difference

Finally, implementing the principle of respect includes relinquishing the historic control that the Canadian government has exerted over the lives of Indigenous communities and creating physical and jurisdictional space for such communities to express and foster cultural difference. With respect to the need for physical space, Indigenous communities rely on and maintain close relationships with their ancestral territories. Indigenous peoples not only depend on the resources within their territories for economic and physical sustenance, their relationships with their specific ancestral territories sustain their cultural and spiritual identities.[137] The centrality of territory to Indigenous peoples makes the protection of the territorial relationship of utmost importance. As Matthew Chapman argues “the maintenance of the territorial connection must be the condition precedent for the survival of indigenous cultures and, therefore, the survival of indigenous peoples as peoples.”[138] Chapman argues that states around the world are more willing to support the protection of the cultural rights of Indigenous peoples but are much more reluctant to support the protection of territorial and self-determination rights.[139] The stability provided to Indigenous communities by securing territorial rights, however, is central to the survival and identities of Indigenous peoples.

The need to create physical space for Indigenous communities to flourish is closely related to the need to create jurisdictional space for the protection of cultural difference. Indigenous governments need space to govern their communities according to their cultural traditions and values. Indigenous governments therefore may differ in form and design both from mainstream institutions and from those of other Indigenous communities based on differing cultural values. As Kerry Wilkins asserts, the Canadian legal system

must dedicate sufficient ‘constitutional space for Aboriginal peoples to be Aboriginal,’ to borrow Donna Greschner’s wonderful phrase. This entails respecting and protecting communities’ power, and indeed duty, to defend such individuals, lands and resources as may remain to them against mainstream ‘laws and policies which are demonstrably threatening to their culture,’ and generally to address their own needs and imperatives in ways that they themselves consider effective and appropriate, even when those aims and ways differ substantially from what we in the mainstream culture might have done or preferred. This, in turn, necessarily involves ‘the significant letting go of Canadian government power over the lives of Aboriginal citizens,’ and accepting that self-governing Aboriginal communities are bound sometimes to make mistakes—even by their own reckoning—that it cannot be our business, uninvited, to correct.[140]

Respecting jurisdictional space for Indigenous peoples therefore includes the acceptance that such communities may design different institutions, legal systems, and processes that are culturally appropriate to their communities.

Respecting jurisdictional space also involves recognizing Indigenous sovereignty as an effective way to protect collective difference.[141] As Patrick Macklem suggests,

[e]ach side cherishes its own collective difference and values sovereignty as a way of expressing that difference and protecting it from the encroaching views of the other. Collective difference, far from being a reason for refusing to recognize a community’s sovereignty, is in fact a precondition of such recognition. The value of sovereignty lies in the legal space it establishes for a community to construct, protect, and transform its collective identity. Sovereignty, simply speaking, permits the legal expression of collective difference.[142]

Here Macklem asserts that the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty would create a legal space for Indigenous governments to envision and support their collective identity as a community. He is careful to point out that because sovereignty is socially constructed, it is not tied to one institutional form but can be sculpted and recreated to serve the purposes of Indigenous communities, one of which is to protect collective difference.[143] The recognition of sovereignty is therefore a central way that Aboriginal law could protect the expression of Indigenous collective difference.

The creation of jurisdictional space includes the ability to design and implement legal institutions that reflect and enforce Indigenous legal traditions. Indigenous peoples need to participate in “defining the meaning, institutions and standards of justice in their own communities.”[144] Greschner asserts that designing a just legal system requires “ensuring that [Aboriginal peoples] are the systems’ dreamers, architects and caretakers.”[145] Indigenous governments need to be supported, therefore, in designing culturally appropriate solutions to the problems facing their own communities[146] and, equally importantly, that non-Indigenous people trust their ability to do so.

The creation of this jurisdictional space would support Indigenous peoples’ ability “to define who they are”; it would provide the “potential for self-definition which includes their capacity to project their own theories and particular forms of knowledge.”[147] The creation of such space would enable Indigenous communities to make laws and policies that reflect Indigenous conceptions of respect for all life forms and past and future generations. It would enable Indigenous communities to reinvigorate governance structures specifically formulated to protect Indigenous cultural difference.

The recognition of Indigenous territorial, jurisdictional, and governance rights poses the most difficulty for the Canadian constitutional structure and Canadian society as a whole. Inevitably, such rights will create conflicts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples because these rights compete for scarce resources (land) and conflict with the vision that Canada has created of how it should be governed. The federal structure, however, already allows for different levels of jurisdictional and governance powers. With enough support and a new vision of how Canada might be restructured on the basis of mutual respect, Indigenous governance and territorial rights might become a reality.

Conclusion: Visions of Respect

The principle of respect seems reasonable to implement in the context of managing the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. History, however, has demonstrated that respect has not characterized these relationships to date. An appropriate interpretation of the principle of respect to govern relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples would be informed by and reflect Indigenous and non-Indigenous visions. Engendering respect in the intercultural relationship would involve deliberately rejecting stereotypes and negative attitudes toward Indigenous peoples and recognizing the cultural, territorial, and governance rights of Indigenous communities.

Negotiating and implementing a bijural interpretation of the principle of respect poses challenges on all sides. It poses a challenge for the Canadian state itself in that it is based upon and reflective of colonial values and ideas. It raises difficult questions like whether the Canadian state can engage in and take up a bijural interpretation of respect when its colonial tendency will be to assert the superiority of Eurocentric ideas over Indigenous ideas. This approach also poses a challenge for Indigenous peoples, who might ask questions about whether they should negotiate the meaning of law in a mutually respectful way with the Canadian state when settlers continue to occupy Indigenous lands unlawfully.

Despite these challenges, there is much to gain from implementing the principle of respect and having this principle guide government and legal decision making in the context of Aboriginal rights claims. As the RCAP notes, “[r]espect among cultures creates a positive, supportive climate for harmonious relations, as opposed to the acrimonious and strife-ridden relations of a culture of disdain. Respect for the unique position of Canada’s First Peoples ... should be a fundamental characteristic of Canada’s civic ethos.”[148] Implementing an intercultural principle of respect to guide relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples provides a useful way forward in fairly and appropriately resolving Aboriginal law disputes. It also has the potential to move Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples within Canada forward on the most important journey facing us today—the journey of reconciliation.