In this era of reconciliation, the self-determination of Indigenous Peoples in Canada is more important than ever. Some Indigenous communities have signed self-government agreements of various kinds with the federal government, yet there are still many obstacles along the path to true self-determination for Indigenous nations.
Leroy Paul Wolf Collar, a former Chief of Siksika Nation in southern Alberta, dealt with many problems faced by Indigenous nations across the country, such as housing shortages, lack of opportunities for youth, and the challenges and frustrations of operating within the colonial system and the constraints of the Indian Act.
In his book First Nations Self-Government: 17 Roadblocks to Self-Determination, and One Chief’s Thoughts on Solutions, Wolf Collar addresses 17 obstacles that are impeding Indigenous nations due to this defective system, such as broken treaty promises, problems with common forms of band administration, and the intrusion of provincial governments. He also provides potential solutions to overcome them.
“I wanted to share my knowledge and experience as a former councillor and chief in hopes that I can inspire future First Nations people into becoming educated and healthy leaders representing their communities,” says Wolf Collar. “I wanted to share the truth and realities experienced by First Nations Peoples whose quality of life is hindered by the ‘17 Roadblocks’ I talk about in my book.”
He specifically addresses leadership within First Nations communities. Wolf Collar says that First Nations need to change the way chiefs and councillors are elected. “We need leaders who are educated with leadership and management experience and with healthy minds. We need leaders as role models who lead by example, who will inspire the youth in our communities,” he says.
As well, Wolf Collar says that “First Nations communities need to change the way they govern themselves – from the Indian Act (a place of dystopia) to self-government, which will lead us to self-determination (a place of utopia).”
This involves developing Indigenous Constitutions based on traditional and sacred laws, citizenships, and languages. It involves defining the roles and responsibilities of everyone in Indigenous communities and not just depending on the chiefs and councillors, while also making chiefs and councillors accountable and transparent to the people who elected them.
But while First Nations Self-Government is aimed at aspiring and current Indigenous leaders, Wolf Collar emphasizes that the book is equally available to non-Indigenous readers.
He hopes to educate non-Indigenous Canadians “about the truth and realities facing Indigenous Peoples, which I share from an Indigenous lens and from my lived experiences as a former leader and someone who grew up on an Indian reserve.”
Wolf Collar says, “non-Indigenous Canadians need to come to grips with the fact that First Nations people’s relationship with Canada is designed on assimilation (a loss of culture, identity, language, and laws) and colonization (the western system of governance). A relationship that was never agreed to by Indigenous Peoples.”
Ultimately, Wolf Collar hopes the book will effect change in the mindsets of non-Indigenous Canadians, the provincial and federal levels of government, and the Indigenous Peoples themselves.
“We need to all aim at improving the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples and their communities.”