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Traditional Governance


Decisions made in cases are important aspects of the Canadian legal system. They create precedent, help to interpret legislation, and evolve the law. This section lists several key cases related to Indigenous self-governance in Canada. 

Calder et al. v. Attorney-General of British Columbia, [1973] S.C.R. 313

In Calder et al. v. Attorney of British Columbia the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that Indigenous land rights, including title, existed in Canadian law. This case is considered to be the foundation for the Nisga’a Treaty.


Learn more:

Indigenous Foundations: Calder Case

Case Brief: Calder et al. v. Attorney-General of British Columbia

The Calder Case, 1971–1973

R. v. Sparrow, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 1075

R. v. Sparrow was the first Supreme Court of Canada case to interpret the scope of section 35 of the Constitution Act, which provides constitutional protection to the Indigenous rights and treaty rights. 


Learn more:

Case Brief: R. v. Sparrow

Raven Trust: The Sparrow Test

Indigenous Foundations: R. v. Sparrow

R. v. Van der Peet, [1996] 2 S.C.R. 507

R. v. Van der Peet also considers section 35 of the Constitution Act. This case resulted in the Van der Peet test for determining if an Aboriginal right is protected by section 35(1), creating a narrowed and restricted set of criteria established by the court to “prove” Indigenous rights.


Learn more:

Indigenous Foundations: Van der Peet case

Canadian Encylopedia: Van der Peet case

R v Van der Peet, [1996] SCC Case Brief

R v Pamajewon [1996] 2 SCR 821

In R. v. Pamajewon, Two Anishinaabe First Nations, Eagle Lake and Shawanaga, argued that they had an inherent right to self-government when it came to gambling on reserve. It was the first time that an inherent right to self-government was argued before the Supreme Court of Canada.


Learn more: 

Permafrost Rights: Aboriginal Self-Government and the Supreme Court in R. v. Pamajewon

Raven Trust: Pamajewon Case – claims for self-government

Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1010

This case, commonly refered to as the Delamuukw Case, clarified the definition and content of Aboriginal title in relation to self-government. It involved a claim to a right of self-government but the Supreme Court declined to discuss it. 


Learn more: 

BC Treaty Commission: A Lay Person's Guide to Delgamuukw 

Delgamuukw at 10: An Insider’s Tale

Delgamuukw Case: Canadian Encyclopedia

Delgamuukw Resources Research Guide

Campbell et al v. AG BC/AG Cda & Nisga'a Nation et al, 2000 BCSC 1123

In the Campbell et al v. AG BC/AG Cda & Nisga'a Nation et al case, the self-government provisions of the Nisga'a Final Agreement were deemed constitutionally valid because Indigenous nations have an inherent right of self-government that is protected by section 35(1) of the Constitution Act.