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"While we can rejoice that progress is being made, we can perhaps lament that it has taken close to a quarter century for many of these ideas to come to fruition. Much more still remains to be done."

Late last year the federal government announced the dissolution of the department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), explaining that it would be replaced by two departments which will facilitate improvements to service delivery and nation building.

In order to support those important objectives, Budget 2018 invests heavily in improving Indigenous access to clean and safe drinking water, ensuring that Indigenous children are safe and supported, supporting distinction-based housing, developing healthier communities, and providing necessary skills and employment. It also provides support for the recognition of rights, helping Indigenous Nations reconstitute, permanent bilateral mechanisms, and a new fiscal relationship.

The budget allocates $4.75 billion dollars over five years to achieve better results for Indigenous Peoples: $4.14 billion toward service delivery and $613 million for Rights and Determination. This two-pronged approach has been, and continues to be, reflected in the machinery of government changes taking place in the federal government, which includes a recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The re-imagined department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, led by Minister Carolyn Bennett, has a mandate to support Indigenous government structures and the right of self-determination. Importantly, that will include support for the Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The budget’s focus on measures that will accelerate progress on existing rights and recognition tables, implement the spirit and intent of existing and future agreements, and support the rebuilding and reconstituting their nations, will provide much-needed resources to assist the department in advancing rights recognition and self-determination.

The newly-created Department of Indigenous Services, led by Minister Jane Philpott, has a mandate to improve the immediate living conditions of Indigenous Peoples and for the longer term. That includes providing safe drinking water so that the unacceptable boil water advisories on reserves will no longer be necessary. The budget’s focus on providing improved services with the “goal of ensuring that the design, delivery and control of services are led by Indigenous Peoples for Indigenous Peoples”, has the potential to go a long way to address the serious challenges.

The creation of these two new departments is not some random thought or hopeful idea of this government. They were recommendations from the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, called by the Crown to find a way to recognize and reconcile with Indigenous Peoples and their governments. While we can rejoice that progress is being made, we can perhaps lament that it has taken close to a quarter century for many of these ideas to come to fruition. Much more still remains to be done.

Recently, the Institute on Governance organized the “Characteristics of a Nation-to-Nation” dialogue, held on November 27 and 28. Panelists noted that a key step involves taking stock of, recognizing, and addressing the legacy of colonial policies such as the Indian Act and the residential schools program, which have eroded many Indigenous nation’s governance institutions and practices. They pondered whether that might require something akin to a New Royal Proclamation that clearly recognizes Indigenous Peoples as founding peoples and recognizing nationhood by protecting the assertion of Indigenous jurisdictions.

They also felt strongly that there needs to be recognition of government’s responsibility for providing service levels for indigenous communities comparable to non-Indigenous communities, which was recently highlighted in the recent First Nations Child and Family Caring Society ruling.

The hope that was expressed with the dissolution of INAC […]

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