UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The struggle for inclusion : aboriginal constitutional discourse in the 1970s and 1980s Wherrett, Barbara Jill


Over the past two decades, aboriginal peoples in Canada have become involved in the process of constitutional revision. As they became engaged in constitutional debates, aboriginal peoples developed a discourse that centred on historic rights, past injustices, and differences from the broader Canadian community. New terms and concepts which described these identities were introduced into constitutional language. An analysis of the testimony of the national aboriginal organizations before Special Joint Committees on the Constitution and the transcripts of the First Ministers' Conferences on Aboriginal Constitutional Matters reveals how aboriginal peoples attempted to reshape the political world through the Constitution. Aboriginal discourse has highlighted the role of the Canadian Constitution as an emblem of status and inclusion in Canadian society. Aboriginal peoples have sought recognition in the Constitution as a way to improve their status and gain symbolic admission into the Canadian state. However, they have sought inclusion according to their own narratives of their history, identity, and aspirations. These separate identities have been reflected in the words they have chosen to describe themselves and their relationship to the Canadian state. Aboriginal constitutional language has served to develop aboriginal identities and alter the terms of Canadian constitutional discourse. The discourse reveals some of the problems posed by aboriginal use of terms such as nation, sovereignty and rights, both for aboriginal and Canadian political leaders. Ultimately, the discourse poses new challenges to concepts of shared Canadian citizenship and identity.

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