Thursday, July 24, 2014
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Nipissing First Nation passes first Ontario Aboriginal constitution

CBC News

The Nipissing First Nation has passed a constitution that’s believed to be the only First Nations constitution in Ontario.

But there are questions about what this document actually does for the community.

The constitution was passed by the Nipissing First Nation with a vote of 319 to 56.

Chief Marianna Couchie said the vote count was “empowering.”

“It took more than 10 years to create this law,” she said.

“It's a major step towards self-government."

Despite Couchie's optimism, it's not entirely clear what power this constitution will have.

She said the Nipissing constitution gives them the right to determine members and set up laws.

According to Darren O'Toole at the University of Ottawa, there is legal debate about whether the Canadian constitution gives First Nations the right to do something like this.

"It's up in the air right now, but some claim it allows for a form of self-government,” O’Toole said.

O'Toole said this issue is bound to come up a lot in the next few months.

Many other Ontario First Nations, such as Atikameksheng and Wanapitae, are expected to be writing their own constitutions as well.

"I know there's a lot of them that are working on them,” O’Toole said.

“I know every single one of those communities will adopt a constitution to replace the Indian Act. Right now, they are governed by the Indian Act."

Couchie said the document will give more authority to laws passed by Nipissing members.

But O’Toole said it is likely these documents will spark legal battles, if they come into conflict with the Indian Act or other Canadian laws.

“It would be a very interesting court case, to be honest."

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