Nation to Nation


In Canada, “nation-to-nation” refers to the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Government of Canada (also known as the Crown). The concept of a nation-to-nation relationshipsbetween Indigenous peoples and the Crown can be traced back to the Two Row Wampum Treaty negotiated in 1613 and documented by the Haudenosaunee with the creation of a wampum belt. The wampum belt consisted of two parallel rows of purple beads set against a background of white beads. The purple rows of the wampum symbolize the two distinct people, each traveling in their own vessels and not attempting to interfere with the other. The three white rows symbolize the shared river and peace, respect and friendship: In one row is a ship with our White Brothers’ ways; in the other a canoe with our ways. Each will travel down the river of life side by side. Neither will attempt to steer the other’s vessel.

The development of a nation-to-nation relationship is an important part of the reconciliation process with Canada. Organized, sophisticated Indigenous societies and nations existed before the introduction of white settlers and before the existence of Canada. As the Supreme Court of Canada, in the landmark 1973 case Calder v. The Queen, put it: “The fact is that when the settlers came the Indians were there, organized in societies and occupying the land as their forefathers had done for centuries.” 

In 2017, the Government of Canada published the “Principles Respecting the Government of Canada's Relationship with Indigenous Peoples,” a set of 10 principles to “guide the work required to fulfill the Government’s commitment to renewed nation-to- nation, government-to-government, and Inuit-Crown relationships.”

However, while the Government of Canada publicly pledges support for Indigenous rights, the actions of the Canadian government, officials, and the courts often continue to fall short. This is especially true when it comes to governmental and corporate infringement on unceded Indigenous land, such as the violent raid by Royal Canadian Mounted Police in January 2019 on the unceded land of the Wet'suwet'en in British Columbia in response to Indigenous resistance to the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. In fact, research from the Yellowhead Institute at Toronto Metropolitan University has found that Canadian courts overwhelmingly order injunctions in support of corporate development projects against Indigenous claims while also overwhelmingly denying Indigenous-sought injunctions against corporations and the government.

Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Focus on International Day