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The splitting up of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada is being called a “game-changer” for Indigenous relations in Canada, but former deputy minister Scott Serson says the government should first issue a royal proclamation to define its new relationship with Indigenous peoples.

“They’re saying this is a reflection of an RCAP [Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples] recommendation, but the royal commission put a couple of significant pieces first before making this change,” said Mr. Serson, who was deputy minister of what was then called Indian and Northern Affairs 1995 to 1999, during work on the RCAP, the final report from which came out in 1996 .

“They were suggesting the idea of a new royal proclamation, which would describe the principle of this new relationship, and that’s a recommendation that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission picked up on,” Mr. Serson said in an interview.

He said the RCAP report also recommended that legislation be tabled, that’s agreed upon among Indigenous peoples, giving a clear indication of the steps to be taken to move forward.

“You still are going to have the same people working there [in the two, split departments]. As a former deputy, I’m inclined to believe that they’re for the most part good public servants, but what they need is a signal that the direction they’ve been on is changing, that the approach is going to be a genuine partnership approach with Indigenous peoples,” he said.

The federal government released 10 “principles” on achieving a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, posted on the Justice Department’s website in July. But Mr. Serson said he has seen criticism about of a lack of discussion about these principles with Indigenous leadership.

“You know what Indigenous peoples have been through over the last 30 years? A failed Charlottetown Accord, failed Kelowna Accord. I think that they’re looking for a stronger indication,” he said.

The government made public its plan to split the Indigenous and Northern Affairs department (INAC) into two as part of the Aug. 28 cabinet shuffle, where former Indigenous and Northern Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett (Toronto-St. Paul’s, Ont.) became Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs minister, and former Health minister Jean Philpott (Markham-Stouffville, Ont.) become Indigenous Services minister.

Planning is now underway on the split—on how to divide up various programs, budgets, staff, and the like—but once complete, the two ministers will be served by two departments with separate deputy ministers.

As recently reported by The Hill Times , during the transition, current INAC deputy minister Hélène Laurendeau will remain in place and both ministers will be working out of offices at 10 Wellington St. in Gatineau, Que., and will draft an interim agreement to divide departmental responsibilities. In the meantime, Ms. Bennett’s communications director, who is serving both ministers’ in the interim, said “nobody is losing their job.”

The government has indicated that Ms. Philpott will handle health, education, child, family, and housing services, along with efforts to end boil water advisories in First Nations communities and food security. Ms. Bennett, on the other hand, will continue to spearhead the government’s efforts to reach self-governance agreements with communities.

Ms. Bennett will lead roughly six months of consultations with Indigenous stakeholders on how to restructure the government’s approach to Indigenous affairs ahead of the tabling of legislation to dissolve INAC and create two new departments, which could take several more months, as reported by The Hill Times .

In response to questions from The Hill Times last week, Ms. Bennett’s office said the government is taking “the next significant step toward ending the Indian Act,” with a staged “dissolution of INAC,” which requires the signalled legislative amendments. As part of […]

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