If you believe Justin Trudeau and the gang, a new era is emerging for indigenous people.
On Monday, the prime minister announced the scrapping of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the creation of two new ministries — one to provide services to indigenous communities and the other to create a new relationship between the Crown and First Nations.
“What we are doing today is also a next step toward ending the Indian Act, but the pace of transition will also require the leadership of indigenous communities themselves,” states a federal release.
Obviously, the model of the past 150 years hasn’t been working when you consider native communities forced to relocate, the horror of residential schools, basic infrastructure that is crumbling, violence and cultures under siege. Now this isn’t to blame all INAC employees, as most of them are compassionate and do the best they can given fickle political and societal attitudes. But the system has been broken for some time.
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, welcomed Trudeau’s shift in direction.
“Today’s announcement of a minister of Crown-indigenous relations and northern affairs and a minister of indigenous services signals a new approach to increasing action across our agenda. First Nations are working to move beyond the Indian Act and reasserting our jurisdiction and sovereignty over our own lands, title and rights,” said Bellegarde in a release Monday.
Obviously there should be a sense of optimism, but how many times have indigenous Canadians heard that their concerns are a priority and systemic changes will occur? After a while, these promises are nothing but hollow words as bands struggle to pursue economic development because of Ottawa’s bureaucracy or there isn’t adequate housing for members.
Trudeau launched a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, but hearings have barely inched ahead as victims’ families have accused commissioners of not providing them a meaningful role in the process.
No sooner was the duo-ministry concept unveiled Monday and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was raising alarm bells.
“They (Liberals) talk a lot about consultation and they talk a lot about engagement with our First Nations communities — time and time again, they just don’t do it,” he told Black Press.
“When it comes to actual practical policies that improve the lives of indigenous communities, they haven’t done any of that.”
But in reality, the relationship between First Nations and Conservatives has been strained at times and the former Stephen Harper administration was often accused of sitting on its hands.
Legislation will be required to actually split INAC in two, and that’s not likely to occur until next year, so will the momentum of the Liberal government continue or will it lose interest over winter? And if the two departments are formed, will there be sufficient funding to operate both or will the ministers be competing for the support of the prime minister?
In the end, the status quo can’t continue. There needs to be a significant shift between First Nations, the government and non-natives if we are to move beyond a dark past. But if that’s to occur, there has to be thoughtful and meaningful consultation with indigenous communities and not just a handful of leaders at the national level.
Trudeau has made a promise and only time will tell if he can keep it.