Ottawa still failing to deal with First Nations’ Dilemmas
TheStar.com – News/Investigations/Government – Broken Peoples Broken Policy: A Star Investigation
Published On Sat Oct 30 2010. Brett Popplewell, Staff Reporter
When it comes to pricey, much-heralded but forgotten tomes, few have gathered more dust than the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples — a 4,000 page document on Canada’s systemic mistreatment of its native peoples.
Commissioned by Parliament in the wake of the Oka Crisis, the report boils down to this central conclusion: “The main policy direction, pursued for more than 150 years, first by colonial then by Canadian governments, has been wrong.”
With a $50 million price tag, the commission’s final report was trumpeted as both “the most expensive royal commission ever” — and the most inspired.
It made more than 400 recommendations, ranging from the symbolic (a proclamation by the Queen apologizing for past “harmful actions”) to the pragmatic (the convening of a first ministers’ conference in six months to tackle the issues).
It called on Indian bands to organize themselves not as hundreds of distinct communities, but rather as 60 to 80 identifiable nations, united by language and culture, that would have stronger voices. It said the government should recognize those nations and give them sufficient territory from stocks of Crown land to make them economically viable. And it recommended that for 25 years, an additional $1.5 billion a year be spent on Indian affairs to help break the cycle of dependency and foster economic independence.
It also recommended that the government dismantle Indian and Northern Affairs and replace it with two new federal departments.
“The commission has given Canadians a challenge to turn their relationship with aboriginal peoples from a serious and growing problem into an asset,” a November 1996 Toronto Stareditorial declared. “Just how we handle that challenge will say much about us as a nation.”
Fourteen years and three prime ministers later, the five-volume report and most of its clarion calls to action remain unfulfilled.
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