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  • The Right Relationship: Reimagining the Implementation of Historical Treaties eds. by John Borrows and Michael Coyle
  • Jill Doerfler
The Right Relationship: Reimagining the Implementation of Historical Treaties. Edited by John Borrows and Michael Coyle. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017. ix + 415 pp. Contributors, index. $39.99 paper.

In The Right Relationship, John Borrows and Michael Coyle bring together an impressive slate of renowned scholars to consider the fraught treaty relationship(s) between First Nations and Canada. Despite the fact the Supreme Court of Canada has described treaties as "sacred" agreements, Canada has yet to create an effective manner to address disputes regarding the meaning(s) and contemporary effects of historical treaties. The contributors provide detailed examples of when, why, and how the relationship went wrong as well as a diverse array of perspectives and ideas regarding how Canada might today change its approach to treaties and First Nations. Rather than provide a singular answer to how the relationship between First Nations and Canada might be transformed, the editors and contributors delineate an array of approaches grounded in Indigenous and non-Indigenous law. Contributors were asked to "reimagine how Canada's legal and political structure could better serve the treaty relationship that forms an inextricable part of our national story" (4). The 1764 Treaty of Niagara served a common starting point for contributors to consider how disputes about treaties might be best resolved. Most contributors gathered together twice over the course of two years, resulting in a synergy rarely seen in edited collections.

In the invaluable introduction, Borrows and Coyle lay plain four central questions of the volume: [End Page 99]

What role should history and historical promises play in shaping modern treaty relationships? If we seek healthy treaty relationships, what should the role of the courts be in resolving disputes, and what is their role in relation to political and public dialogue? What role, if any, should be played by Indigenous values and legal traditions in informing treaty implementation? Should we look to other forums to implement treaties and resolve disputes?


The rest of the introduction is organized around those foundational questions, and Borrows and Coyle briefly outline the ways in which the contributors address these questions. Faculty seeking to assign individual chapters will find the introduction especially valuable. Likewise, the introduction guides and prepares readers for the book. While much of the dialogue in the United States has centered around treaty rights, the focus in this book is relationships, asserting that it is the underlying relationship that provides context and meaning for rights.

The constructive, forward-thinking approaches presented in this book make it a useful read for all Canadians—elected officials, lawyers, educators, and engaged citizens—all who are grappling with how to improve the relationship between First Nations and Canada and want to be part of creating solutions. While the relationship between the United States and Tribal nations is not part of the national narrative in the same way as the Canada and First Nations relationship is there, the book is also valuable for Americans interested in bringing a similar conversation to the forefront as well as those studying international politics. This volume is an important contribution to Indigenous-settler relations.

Jill Doerfler
American Indian Studies University of Minnesota–Duluth


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pp. 99-100
Launched on MUSE
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