President's Message

Why is the Citizenship and Governance Working Group asking community members to fill out the Self Identification Surveys?

As part of advancing negotiations with Canada for rights and recognition, AWN needs to review and possibly modify or update membership criteria, and develop a more comprehensive membership list. At the September Negotiation table, Canada said negotiations can’t advance until AWN is able to answer key government questions about who makes up AWN. One way the Working Group is gathering information for this work is through Self Identification Surveys. Thank you to all who contributed to advancing the negotiation table by filling one out!


What’s the problem?

AWN is a non-status community (not an Indian Act band). Due to this, Canada has claimed, since at least 1998, that they ‘don’t know who AWN is.’ Fair or not, AWN needs some way of demonstrating to governments that AWN is an Indigenous rights-holding group.


The Purposes of the Self Identification Survey are:

To provide a more complete estimate of current membership so we can show Canada if we choose to, and so we are not recommending membership changes based on problems that don’t actually exist once we have more complete information.

We all know the current AWN membership list is incomplete because:

  • No people under 18 are included, as AWN is a non-profit organization under the Alberta Societies Act, and

  • Some people are members of the coops and enterprises, or descendants of the “Native Settlers” in Grande Cache, but are not on the AWN list because they have consciously chosen not to sign up, or because they did not realize they could or should.

  • To provide us with information that will help us answer what are likely key government concerns about negotiating with a non-status Indigenous group like AWN, such as issues of Indigenous ancestry, dual registration, certainty, scope and limits.

  • To provide us with more information to help us demonstrate to governments or courts etc.  Some key features we all know exist but they do not currently see, as a shared historical and continuing culture, that show AWN is an Indigenous rights-holding group based on the most recent federal definition.


Indigenous rights holding group:

Canada has recently stated that, “as set out by the courts” an Indigenous nation or rights holding group is defined as:

a group of Indigenous people sharing critical features such as language, customs, traditions, and historical experience at key moments in time like first contact, assertion of Crown sovereignty, or effective control [note: these times are from Aboriginal law court cases].

For more information see:

It is essential for land claim negotiations that AWN be able to demonstrate more clearly who makes up the community AND that this community shares “critical features such as language, customs, traditions, and historical experience”:

In Aboriginal cases involving Metis peoples, the Court has made comments that a group should not be “of recent vintage” and membership in a Metis organization might not be enough to meet the Powley test (the legal test for Metis Aboriginal rights). Remember Canada is pretending they know NOTHING about AWN, which is technically just a non-profit organization under the Alberta societies act, like a social club.

  • AWN likely needs to demonstrate that it is not just a social club that any Indigenous individual can join (like a Friendship Centre or the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples), but rather is a group that has a long shared culture and history together through time. Luckily, we know this does exist. The issue is how do we demonstrate this to those who do not know everyone here.

  • In Aboriginal rights cases, the Aboriginal group usually must prove “continuity” of important cultural practices. Again, we know that many, if not most, AWN/coops& enterprise members to continue to practice the language, customs, and traditions such as hunting and harvesting. The same issue arises, which is how to demonstrate this to others who don’t see how obvious this is to us.

Are the Self Identification Surveys contrary to the Charter or Human Rights Codes?

At the February 16th AWN AGM, it was stated that the surveys were contrary to community members’ human rights.


AWN has discussed this matter with our own legal counsel. The Charter and Human Rights legislation in Alberta operate to protect individuals from discriminatory treatment, including discrimination based on race, religion, and gender (among other things).  It is critical to understand that the information being collected in these surveys has not been used by AWN to differentiate between members of cooperatives and enterprises for any reason.


The only purpose for gathering this information is to provide information to the working group that is studying potential options for a membership code for the community as a whole. This information will only be used to address government questions about “who” AWN is and to inform discussions taking place at the working group, and ultimately, the community, as it considers how to formally reconstitute our Nation. It will be up to the community as a whole to decide what kind of membership code best reflects our community.


More information on your human rights in Alberta can be found here:

Citizenship and Governance

AWN is happy to announce a Research Partnership Agreement relating to Citizenship and Governance work between AWN and the University of Alberta Wahkohtowin Indigenous Law and Governance Lodge, which is an initiative through the Faculties of Law and Native Studies. It is co-led by Dr. Hadley Friedland (Law) and Dr. Shalene Jobin (Native Studies) and funded through a generous grant from the Alberta Law Foundation.


Highlights include:


  • Up to $80 000.00 in funding support for community-led research, education and engagement,

  • Support and research assistance, including assistance in the form of Indigenous Citizenship and Governance resources, educational opportunities and clear language resources for the working group and the community-at-large,

  • Support and practical assistance developing cultural pride and community building initiatives, like community gatherings, youth-led film project, communication plan and positive social media campaign

  • Community engagement and education on citizenship and governance topics over the spring/summer months. 


This remains a community-led project, and all university partnered work will be returned to the community. More information can be found on the AWN website.


Have questions? Are there issues relating to citizenship and governance (or going to university) you want to know more about? Questions are always welcome and anyone can reach out! Hadley can be reached by email at or feel free to send a message through phone or Facebook if you are already connected!