A People's Dream: Aboriginal Self-Government in Canada


243 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-0799-7
DDC 323.1'197071






Reviewed by David Mardiros

David Mardiros is a lawyer and anthropological consultant in Terrace,
British Columbia.


This book sets itself a complex task. The author attempts to make a
cogent argument for why the self-government aspirations of First Nations
cannot be met through the current strategy pursued by both aboriginal
groups and the federal and provincial governments—a strategy that
focuses on incremental change through the joint approaches of litigation
and negotiation. In its place, this book argues that an amendment to the
Constitution that would entrench tribal governments is the only way that
the continuity and independence of aboriginal self-government can be

The argument put forward is well referenced and passionately argued but
not altogether convincing. The weaknesses of the current approach are
discussed clearly enough. As the author points out, the Supreme Court of
Canada has stated that aboriginal rights, to be constitutionally
protected, must be integral to the distinctive culture of the group
claiming the right. This test has led to some inconsistencies of
application. Aboriginal litigants have found that the establishment of
“rights” is highly dependent on the quality of the evidence
available and, at the end of the day, is quite a subjective process
depending on the interpretations of outside experts and authorities.
Similarly, the book discusses many of the limitations inherent in
attempts to establish self-government through the treaty process. The
costs involved for small groups to marshal the human and financial
resources necessary to conclude the sometimes interminable negotiations
may mean that this opinion is unworkable.

Where the book treads on weaker ground is in its discussion of the
author’s preferred alternative to the current process—a
constitutional amendment that would guarantee the self-government rights
of First Nations. While acknowledging that attempts to amend the
Constitution over the past 15 years have been spectacularly
unsuccessful, the author is unable to present any arguments that suggest
that future attempts, especially if the primary focus relates to
aboriginal rights, are not also doomed to failure. Despite this, the
references to the work of other scholars, and also to trends in the
United States, makes this a work that has much to offer readers who wish
to examine the weaknesses and limitations of current policy toward
Native peoples.


Russell, Dan., “A People's Dream: Aboriginal Self-Government in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed November 29, 2023, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/29419.