Determining the “Core of Indianness:” A Feminist Political Economy of NIL/TU,O v. BCGEU


  • Adam King
  • Veldon Coburn University of Ottawa
  • Leah Vosko
  • Rebecca Hall
  • Olena Lyubchenko
  • Andie Noack



In light of Bill C-92, which establishes a framework for delegating child and family service provision to Indigenous communities, this article addresses the contested regulation of employment and labour relations in Indigenous social service workplaces. It approaches this subject by looking back at NIL/TU,O Child and Family Services Society v. B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, a case in which employees at a First Nations child and family services provider attempted to unionize. NIL/TU,O set in motion a legal battle over the jurisdiction of Indigenous labour relations that ultimately reached the Supreme Court of Canada in 2010. The SCC’s determined that the labours of the Indigenous workers at NIȽ TU,O Child and Family Services are a matter of provincial jurisdiction because they fall outside of the “core of Indianness,“ a contested legal  concept used to designate federal legislative power over First Nations peoples. Using Indigenous feminisms and a feminist political economy approach, we argue that this decision rests on gendered appraisals – and, indeed, obfuscations – of social reproduction labour.  Bill C-92 necessitates revisiting the case history in NIL/TU,O because of the ways in which it seems to conflict with the new Act.  We suggest that the uncertainty surrounding jurisdiction over Indigenous labour has the dual potential of, on the one hand, being used strategically for exploitative or dis-possessive purposes, or, on the other hand, taken up as a opening for increased self-determination by Indigenous peoples.