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Northern and Aboriginal Policy

Northern and Aboriginal Policy is a knowledge area within the Public Policy division of the Conference Board of Canada.

The success of Canada’s Northern and Aboriginal communities is widely recognized as critical to Canada’s economic growth and social cohesion. The issues are complex and sometimes conflicted. The Conference Board of Canada aims to fill the knowledge gaps in policy development and analysis within key issues such as: community resilience; labour market needs; capacity building; land use planning; infrastructure and natural resource development; and health and wellness.

The Conference Board’s Northern and Aboriginal-related networks and research services are ideally suited to help you understand these issues and address them within the context of your organization.

Executive Networks allow you to engage with peers and stakeholders and to participate in facilitated closed-door discussions. It is here that you will network and exchange ideas with the country’s senior corporate, Aboriginal, and public sector leaders in this area. You will also benefit from the Conference Board’s unparalleled access to a broad range of expert speakers.

The Conference Board of Canada offers a wide range of research services with access to in-depth studies and independent reports on hot-topics. It also offers custom research/services from small, short-term research projects to large-scale research investigations.

Northern and Aboriginal Policy Blog

Finding the “Win-Win” in Major Project Agreements

  • Christopher Duschenes
| Mar 08, 2017
Christopher Duschenes
Northern and Aboriginal Policy,
Centre for the North

Lessons From Indigenous Groups and Industry Proponents

Over the past 30 years, major project agreements (MPAs) between Indigenous communities and natural resources companies have become the cornerstone of successful development projects in Canada. It is increasingly clear that without MPAs, the likelihood of major projects proceeding is significantly reduced and that partnerships between Indigenous communities and industry are now the norm, not the exception. Corporate and Indigenous community leaders emphasize the need of having MPAs to build trust, improve certainty, and establish joint economic development opportunities. MPAs can now be found from coast to coast to coast across the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples. In the mining sector alone, more than 400 agreements have been concluded between Indigenous groups and project proponents since 1995.

Given the growing importance of MPAs, The Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North (CFN) initiated research to gain a better understanding of the context and elements that form the basis of successful agreements. On March 6, 2017, our report on this issue was released, and it can be downloaded free of charge.

The report documents critical success factors, common obstacles, and challenges that Indigenous groups and proponents need to be mindful of at different phases of major project agreement-making—from early-stage negotiations to long-term implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. For Indigenous groups, the report provides insight into how to navigate potential and expected developments. It also suggests ways that Indigenous governments and businesses can work together to leverage the opportunities presented by major projects, transforming time-limited financial benefits from exhaustible resource development into long-term legacies for their communities.

For industry proponents, the report demonstrates how a corporate focus on building and maintaining healthy relationships with Indigenous groups will enhance the likelihood that the major project will reach the operational stage. Through successful negotiation and implementation of an MPA’s terms and conditions, proponents can establish and maintain the social licence required to effectively develop their project.

The balance of power around natural resource development is shifting and Indigenous communities are increasingly becoming key players in major economic development projects across Canada. An equitable sharing of the natural resources wealth of the country is a meaningful and significant element of reconciliation. Encouraging this trend is a “win-win” for everyone.

Please distribute the report widely, and we encourage you to provide us with your feed-back. All Centre for the North reports are available free of charge.

Learn about becoming a member of the Centre for the North.

Related Webinar

Major Project Agreements and Indigenous Communities: Finding the Win-Win
The Conference Board of Canada, February 28, 2017

Fostering Reconciliation: Investing in Indigenous-Centred Early Childhood Education

  • Kiran Alwani
  • Kala Pendakur
| Sep 07, 2016
Kala Pendakur Kala Pendakur
Research Associate
Northern and Aboriginal Policy
Kiran Alwani Kiran Alwani
Student Intern
Northern and Aboriginal Policy

During The Tragically Hip’s final concert in Kingston last month, lead singer Gord Downie took a moment to reflect on the situation facing many Indigenous peoples in Canada. He emphasized the need to capitalize on the current momentum to take action. During his powerful callout to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian population at large, Downie pointed to our collective lack of knowledge of issues facing the North and Indigenous people. He spoke of the urgent need for change—and there is clear evidence to support this.

Many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals and communities across the country face significant social, financial, and institutional challenges that have kept them from achieving their potential. As of 2010, roughly two-in-five Indigenous children in Canada were living below the poverty line, and the Indigenous population at large is over-represented in government care.1 Indigenous communities, in particular, face severe structural barriers related to education that have led, in part, to their people routinely having lower scores in numeracy and literacy and being more likely than non-Aboriginals to repeat primary school, drop out of school at an early age, and be unemployed. This has led to a cycle of intergenerational poverty and inequality.

Beyond the simple fact that the conditions that many Indigenous children face are unacceptable, there is a real economic disadvantage in not investing in Indigenous kids. The Indigenous population has been growing at about three times the rate of the non-Aboriginal population. It is expected that about 300,000 Indigenous young people will enter the Canadian labour force from 2007 to 2022, and it is in all our interests to create the conditions that foster their full participation in the Canadian economy.2 Employing Indigenous people at a rate equivalent to the non-Aboriginal population alone would boost the economy of Saskatchewan by an estimated $1.8 billion by 2035.3 In the face of an aging overall population in Canada, the economic growth that we are calling for may depend on our ability to more strongly engage Indigenous people, particularly the next generation.

While there is no silver bullet, experts have noted repeatedly that high-quality, Indigenous-centred early childhood education helps young Indigenous children develop a sense of belonging and well-being, and provides them with the foundation to cope with the challenging conditions they often face. A strong and relevant foundation allows them to thrive socially, emotionally, and academically. National Aboriginal organizations, such as the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Assembly of First Nations, as well as the territorial governments, have provided recommendations to create early childhood development programming that starts from an Aboriginal context and perspective. The recurring themes among their recommendations include the creation of a model that is child-centred, family-focused, and community-driven.

Despite the recognized value of programs built along these lines, evidence shows that there has been insufficient investment in Indigenous early childhood education programming. As recently as 2009, it was estimated that fewer than one-in-five Indigenous children had access to any sort of early childhood education programs.4 Given the lack of universal access, The Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North, guided by Indigenous, government, and private-sector leaders, will be undertaking an analysis of available early childhood education services in remote regions, their longer-term impact on Indigenous children, and possible solutions for improving program accessibility.

Indigenous groups across the country have commended Downie for lending his powerful voice to this issue and for putting a spotlight on what is one of the most difficult public policy challenges in Canada. The weight of evidence would suggest that they are correct—there is a clear need for action that will benefit everyone. What better way could there be to promote reconciliation than by providing the resources and opportunities for Indigenous youth to grow and learn in an environment that celebrates their cultures, languages, and traditions while preparing them to realize their potential within Canadian society and the economy? How governments direct their attention and resources to these issues in the coming years will have a significant impact on the future of Canada—not just for Indigenous people, but for all Canadians.

Related Webinar

Supporting Indigenous Students: Improving PSE Completion Rates for At Risk Youth
The Conference Board of Canada, September 15, 2016 at 02:00 PM EDT


1    D. Macdonald and D. Wilson, Shameful Neglect: Indigenous Child Poverty in Canada (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016) 11.

2    Parliament of Canada—House of Commons, Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development: No Higher Priority: Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education in Canada (February 2007) 39th Parliament, 1st Session (Ottawa: Government of Canada, 2007) 5.

3    J. Brichta and M. Parkouda, Realizing the Potential: Priority Investments in Saskatchewan’s First Nations and Métis People (Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2013) ii.

4    J. Ball, Improving the Reach of Early Childhood Education for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Children (Toronto: Moving Childcare Forward Project, 2014) 13.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

4     Ibid.

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

6     Daniels v. Canada.

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

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

9     Ibid.

10     Ibid.

Three photos showing a summer mountain scene, a mother and toddler, and a polar bear

Contact Us

For inquiries about NAP executive networks, please contact:

Stefan Fournier
Associate Director, Northern and Aboriginal Policy

For inquiries about NAP custom research, please contact:

Adam Fiser
Principal Research Associate