Book finds solution in cooperation, conversation

Paul Mayne // Western News

Political Science professor Chris Alcantara’s book, A Quiet Evolution: The Emergence of Indigenous-Local Intergovernmental Partnerships in Canada, examines the reasons for success of hundreds of partnerships and agreements between both groups in Quebec, Ontario and Yukon.

As in many towns, there’s a skateboarding park in Teslin, Yukon, where children and teenagers play. The one in Teslin, however, was jointly built by the Teslin Tinglit Council – a Yukon First Nation government – and the municipality.

“Both communities came together to foster an environment of cooperation,” explained Political Science professor Chris Alcantara.

The park is just one of many examples of First Nation and municipal governments in Canada working together every day to improve their communities spotlighted in Alcantara’s book, A Quiet Evolution: The Emergence of Indigenous-Local Intergovernmental Partnerships in Canada. The book was written with co-author Jen Nelles, a Hunter College urban affairs and planning professor.

The book examines the reasons for success of hundreds of partnerships and agreements between both groups in Quebec, Ontario and Yukon.

“There has been a lot of ink spilt on the relationship between federal and provincial governments and First Nation communities,” Alcantara said. “And yet, there are agreements and partnerships that exist between First Nation communities and municipalities, and nobody knows anything about it.”

The agreements vary in their scope. In standard service-sharing agreements, for example, municipalities agree to provide services such as fire protection, ambulance and garbage collection to First Nation communities in exchange for fees.  Both also sign communications agreements where each party agrees to meet with each other between one and four times a year to discuss common issues.

Alcantara’s work will provide a potential toolkit of ideas-that-work for building bridges between First Nations communities and federal and provincial governments in Canada.

“As a non-Indigenous scholar, it is not my place to tell Indigenous communities how they should value or not value different forms of co-operations,” he said. “The book simply provides a framework for scholars and policy-makers to think more effectively about cooperation and encouraging partnerships.”

Alcantara hopes A Quiet Evolution will encourage federal and provincial governments to fund incentives, programs and agreements that involve First Nation and municipal governments together, rather than support them separately.

Municipal governments are usually based in cities, towns and villages, and take care of things like libraries, parks, sanitation, roadways and parking. However, they have limited powers and receive authority from provincial governments.

“People focus on federal and provincial governments when they want change since these institutions have power and authority,” Alcantara said. “People ignore municipalities thinking they are unimportant.”

A Quiet Evolution says otherwise – municipalities, in fact, are actively working with First Nation governments. They have frequently been more successful than their bigger counterparts in “finding meaningful ways to cooperate over a variety of issues” concerning both groups.

“Provincial governments, with few exceptions, are not particularly engaged in encouraging these types of relationships,” Alcantara said. He has found, however, an “increasing appetite on how to foster and facilitate these agreements” at the municipal level.

Success often lies in how they are discussed and written.

Alcantara found some municipal-level agreements were “much more progressive” than federal or provincial ones.

“Municipal governments are more willing to accept First Nation titles and their right to self-governance, and recognise that First Nation people were here first since time immemorial,” he says.

But, there are hurdles amidst these success stories. Racism towards First Nations communities, for example, often hinders progress. Frequently, municipalities are uncertain of their legal powers, including what they can and cannot do when they form agreements with First Nation governments.

One of the best ways to solve these problems – talk to each other.

“You don’t always have to look to politicians or policy-makers,” Alcantara said.

Every citizen, he adds, plays a crucial role in fostering connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens.

“Reach out to your neighbours and try to build relationships with other communities.”