Treaty talk

When it comes to aboriginal issues, federal parties must do more than make promises

Canadians pride themselves on living in a country that stands for peace, harmony and justice.  But our human rights record paints another picture.

Canada has been condemned by the United Nations for its treatment of Aboriginal Peoples. A 2014 UN report[1]  stated that aboriginal communities are in crisis and Canada has not done enough to address the problems.

In this federal election campaign, Canadians have seen the NDP, Green and Liberal parties promise to invest in aboriginal communities. Some of the commitments they have made include increased funding for education, development of new government programs and a promise to undertake a public inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

These promises are a great start but don’t go nearly far enough. For too long, we have known that well meaning programs and investment of monies are not enough.

Next year marks the 20-year anniversary of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) Report. The Royal Commission was established in 1991 to, in the Commission’s words, “help to restore justice to the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and to propose practical solutions to stubborn problems.” [2] 

In 1996 the final report set out a 20-year agenda for change, recommending new legislation and institutions, additional resources, a redistribution of land, and Aboriginal nations rebuilding themselves, their governments and communities. The RCAP, had its recommendations been implemented, would have set Canada on a bold path of reconciliation and fundamentally changed the foundations of Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal people.

Unfortunately, as seen in the UN report, little has changed in 20 years. This isn’t surprising given that very few of the 440 recommendations in the 5 volume, 4,000 page RCAP report have been implemented.

Successive governments have commissioned numerous reports and each reinforces the previous RCAP report’s message: we must reframe the relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and the Crown. We must honour the commitments of the treaties and establish and maintain a relationship based on mutual respect and recognition. We must respect and uphold aboriginal and treaty rights.

Report after report insists that ensuring equity in economic and educational opportunities, while urgent, is not enough. Canada must recognize the special relationship Aboriginal Peoples have with the Crown. This relationship includes the autonomy of indigenous nations to govern themselves and their lands. Government legislations that oppress Aboriginal Peoples, steal their lands, and undermine their governments must be undone.

The RCAP told us that mainstream programs for education and health fail Aboriginal People[3] . It is disappointing that in this election, promises of government oversight, government controlled monies, and a failure to commit to returning power and decision making control to Aboriginal Peoples repeat the same mainstream, ineffective and paternalistic emphases.

Hopefully in these final days of campaigning, the parties move away from the rhetoric and towards real, actionable steps they will take to restore justice to Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal People. If they need some help with ideas, there are more than 400 in the RCAP report to start with.

Jennifer Keith is a PhD student in the Native Studies Department at the University of Manitoba and an instructor with the politics department at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 70, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 15, 2015)

We love comments and appreciate the time that our readers take to share ideas and give feedback. The Uniter reserves the right to remove any comments from the site. Please leave comments that are repectful and useful.

You Might Also Want To Read