After centuries of enduring unkept promises and what many consider an ethnic and cultural genocide, it seems there is new hope for Canada’s Aboriginal community. On August 28, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his decision to dissolve the department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, or INAC, and replace it with two new ministries: Carolyn Bennett’s Crown-Indigenous Relations (CBCIR) and Northern Affairs (NA), intended to consult and communicate with Indigenous groups. A service, called Jane Philpott’s Indigenous Service, will also be implemented. Its focus will be delivering adequate services to First Nations people in a timely manner.
These changes have been a long time coming, as they were a part of a list of recommendations first made by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996, and ignored when Jean Chrétien and his government released Canada’s Aboriginal Action Plan in 1998. Still, the Liberal government is optimistic about their so-called new idea. In a press release, they said, “To put it plainly, the level of ambition of this government cannot be achieved through existing colonial structures…” Their ambitions include reconciliation and reforms regarding welfare, education and fiscal matters.
“It’s about de-colonizing. It’s about getting back to the original relationship that was the spirit and intent of the treaties. It’s about getting rid of paternalism.”
The first step in this, the dissolution of INAC, should be expedited due to the $96 million increase in funding in late 2016. An additional $11.8 million has been pledged over the next six years. Caroline Bennett was even quoted saying, “It’s about de-colonizing. It’s about getting back to the original relationship that was the spirit and intent of the treaties. It’s about getting rid of paternalism.”
Despite the Liberal Party’s enthusiasm, the question on everybody’s mind is: will it work? Critics argue that it is far too difficult to reverse hundreds of years worth of damage to indigenous-colonial relations, and that the needs of the Aboriginal people are much too diverse and complex to be fully solved. One senior Minister believes, “there is just too much poison in the system.” First Nations chiefs are also rightfully skeptical.
Australia can be used as a case study to be used to answer the question of the effectiveness of Trudeau’s plan. Prime Minister John Howard segmented his ministry regarding Aboriginal affairs, and Tony Abbott reunified it. Yet neither showed significant signs of amelioration for Indigenous peoples’ quality of life.
“there is just too much poison in the system.”
While Australia’s results seem to confirm the doubts of critics, it does not mean that nothing should be done at all. There are key differences between Australia and Canada. Australia’s situation is arguably more severe. And of course, some positive change is better than none all. Only time will tell, but the white man’s perspective is known to be not too helpful these days.