Tim Raybould on Indigenous self-government

On Sept. 22, Raybould, Professor of Practice at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, will deliver a lecture at the McGill Faculty Club titled "Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Opportunities and Challenges."
Tim Raybould
Tim Raybould has been working with First Nations and Indigenous people in Canada for over 25 years.

Tim Raybould is Professor of Practice at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC). He was educated at the University of Cambridge, receiving his Ph.D. in 1993 in social anthropology. For over twenty-five years Tim has provided professional advice to First Nations and Indigenous organizations in Canada and has been directly involved in a number of Indigenous-led sectoral and comprehensive governance initiatives.

On Sept. 22, Raybould, will deliver a lecture at the McGill Faculty Club titled “Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Opportunities and Challenges.” The lecture is free and open to the public. Get more information and RSVP.

In advance of his public lecture, Raybould sat down with the McGill Reporter.

How did you end up at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC)?

Since returning to Canada from the UK in 1989 to conduct research for my Ph.D. considering Indigenous self-government I have been working almost exclusively for First Nations and First Nation institutions; typically as a negotiator or policy advisor. Much of this work has been, as some First Nation leaders have affectionately called it, on the ‘bleeding edge’ of change.

Over the past two decades there have been important advances made in First Nation’s governance and public administration. This is part of a significant and growing transition that is occurring within Indigenous communities across Canada as ‘nations’ are reconstituted and the Indian Act system of federally imposed ‘band’ government gives way to more appropriate systems of governance as part of an evolving system of cooperative federalism. In this regard, there have been a number of First Nation-led federal, and in some cases provincial, legislative initiatives to recognize and support the transition to self-government. I am fortunate to have been directly involved in most of them.

Since receiving my doctorate in 1993, and although occasionally teaching at the Banff Centre as part of the Establishing Institutions of Indigenous Governance program, I have, for the most part, been outside of academic life. It had always been my intention to return to academic life, and so when the opportunity presented itself to become a ‘professor of practice’ at MISC, a title that I was not familiar with until coming to McGill, I readily accepted it.

What do you hope to accomplish during your time with MISC?

The story of the transition (legal, social and political) that is taking place in Canada as First Nations deconstruct their colonial past and rebuild is an aspect of Canadian studies that, in my opinion, requires more robust academic consideration. This includes a need for increased focus on the actual and practical implementation of the inherent right of self-government with the associated institutional development that is taking place, on the ground, within Indigenous communities.

I have been very privileged to be a part of and to gain a considerable amount of first hand knowledge of Indigenous self-government in practice. Therefore, in addition to teaching a course on Indigenous Governance during the upcoming Winter semester, I hope to continue a number of research papers and articles I have been working on with respect to the rebuilding of Indigenous governance and administration within Canada. These include papers considering: establishing core institutions of governance; financing Indigenous governments and the developing fiscal relationship, including access to public debt financing; land management and systems of land tenure within Indigenous governments; the determination of citizenship within Indigenous nations and questions of identity; evolving mechanisms for reconciliation and the challenges of decolonization; labour relation within Indigenous governments; developing institutions for education and ‘closing the gap’ and; the concept of ‘free, prior and informed consent’ and the implications for resource development in Canada.

Finally, comparative studies concerning ‘fourth world’ politics as between Indigenous peoples and the nation state in which they find themselves, has always been an interest of mine. I believe Canada has much to contribute to this conversation given our unique Constitutional arrangements (namely section 35 and section 25 of the Charter) and how reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is occurring and is expected to unfold over the coming years. This will be of interest to a broad international audience particularly given the differing international perspectives on implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

What are the biggest challenges facing Indigenous peoples in Canada

While for some Indigenous communities social indicators are improving, and in some cases improving quickly, for far too many the improvements in quality of life have not be forthcoming. The pace of change has been glacially slow and not evenly distributed across Canada. This despite rights recognition in section 35, the numerous favourable court decisions for Indigenous peoples, not to mention the dozens of commissions, studies and inquires that have been conducted and the increasing public and government support for ‘reconciliation’. As is often repeated by Indigenous leaders, decolonization is never easy. The question is, why?

There are, of course, a number of factors. Not least of which is the need to have supportive federal, provincial or territorial governments with the political will and budgets to do what is required. At the same time it is also necessary to have strong Indigenous leadership to guide the work that needs to be done. There are always the ‘leaders of change’. Quality education is, of course, also fundamental to unlocking potential. In many ways it goes hand-in-hand with strong leadership.

It is also important to keep in mind that while the challenges to decolonization may be great so too are the opportunities. Moving forward, with the Federal government supporting a new ‘nation-to-nation’ relationship with Indigenous peoples based on rights recognition and looking to develop new mechanisms to support the transition from the status quo, there is now a sense of urgency for Indigenous nations to undertake the necessary work that only they can undertake in rebuilding strong and culturally appropriate governance.

Accordingly, perhaps the greatest challenge, but also opportunity, is how to empower local communities to take on the hard, and often-controversial work, of nation rebuilding. That is to actually look beyond the Indian Act and to self-govern and to implement rights that have been hard fought for and to translate those rights into practical and meaningful benefits on the ground.

As a non-Indigenous person do you think it is appropriate to be teaching and talking about Indigenous issues as you do?

There is always the question of the appropriate voice. Outside of academia and as a professional living in and working for First Nation communities for most of my adult life, I have always been very mindful of my role. In fact, I never really expected to do the type of work that I have done and in many ways fell into it. As such I have always sought to ensure that I do not take work away from indigenous people and have always helped to support and develop affirmative hiring policies and practices. With respect to teaching I think it is important, as well as timely, to begin to share some of my on the ground practical experiences through an academic lens.  Further, I believe that the academic discourse on indigenous issues must be robust and unhindered and in that respect all voices, must be welcome and heard. On this point there is, of course, still a need for more indigenous voices in academia generally and certainly within McGill. Something that I hope will happen as Indigenous content is further developed and programs are offered at McGill. Both catering to Indigenous students and taught by Indigenous faculty.

Tim Raybould will deliver his lecture Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Opportunities and Challenges on Sept. 22, from 5 – 7 p.m. in the Ballroom of the Faculty Club (3450 McTavish Street). Get more information. The public lecture is free, but please confirm your attendance.