—September 14, 2017—

What to make of the so-called ‘split’ of Indian Affairs? Former Prime Minister Harper had changed its name, that is until current Prime Minister Trudeau changed it again: (‘Aboriginal’ under Harper) (‘Indigenous’ under Trudeau). But for some reason, changing the name of the Indian Act is verboten. Passing strange, since the Indian Act is the legal and the administrative basis for the department. Now, it’s about to be split into two ‘new’ separate ministries: one called ‘Indigenous Services’; the other called ‘Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs’. That’s a mouthful for the average Canadian. I propose, instead, that Indian Affairs simply be called the ‘Human Resources’ department for natives – which is really what it is.

We all know the hallmarks of human resources departments: parenthood and control, which is why this particular bureaucracy had been around since the beginning of Canada. It has long ago reconciled itself to administration by rote, process over substance. It harbours a lethal legacy of unprofessional complacency. Unsurprisingly, it’s not held in high regard by any sector of industry, government or impacted society that has to deal with it. That’s why I stick with the acronyms INAC1 & INAC2. It’s just more of the same. Twinning this feeble administrative mindset is hardly a progressive move. It smacks of political gamesmanship – more process.

The first announcement from the new ministers is that everyone’s job is safe, at least during the initial period of assessment and consulting. If ever there was a ministry in need of ‘the big broom treatment’ this is the one. So, the job security announcement is obviously intended to squelch brown envelopes flying-out to media, given that there’s no apparent plan guiding next steps. If this is the case, there would indeed be much incentive for bureaucrats to settle scores.

The reason I say this, is because both the government-side and the native-side, had in the preceding two months, announced to great fanfare, their respective marching orders on how they were going to interact. In June, the AFN (& Canada) released its ‘Memorandum of Understanding on Joint Priorities’. Then in July, Canada released its: ‘Ten Principles on Government’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples’. But neither of these charter documents even hinted at the break-up of the department; not one word about this in the AFN’s 8 points or Canada’s 10 points. That’s 18 points in total of go-forward dialogue mechanisms, but with no mention of the main event. The only conclusion that one can logically come to is that the pending ‘spit’ was not on anyone’s radar. Because it landed out of the blue, the very next month, in August. And it took all involved in those previous ‘charter’ exercises completely by surprise. It’s no wonder that the next six-months is going to involve cross-country consultations to figure out the ministerial repackaging (more likely a year). In the ultimate irony, the native-side never raised a fuss about the lack of prior consultation over this procedural bombshell. (One can only imagine the AFN’s reaction had the Harper government tried to pull this off!)

But in fact, the National Chief said that he was ‘cautiously optimistic’; no doubt embracing the possibility of doubling-up the AFN’s fiscal funding over time to meet the expanded challenges.

Because, that’s where this is all heading: doubling of staff functions, doubling of overheads, doubling of processes – leaving less funding for key program delivery. It all sounds too familiar.

Many articles ago, I called upon the Trudeau government to create a new super-Ministry called  ‘Access to Resources’, and to staff it with anybody but INAC and Justice officials. Today that pressing problem is even worse, as the country continues to face massive gridlock in accessing and exporting resources. Thus, I repeat, this is where the political effort should be put, not in repackaging a department that should outright be abolished along with its ‘colonial era’ legislation. Natives have now won 245 legal wins on the road to resources. That is what needs to be addressed. I proposed the solution. But the response has been more ‘Human Resources’!