|The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was established on 26 August 1991 with a broad mandate. It was to 'investigate the evolution of the relationship among aboriginal peoples (Indian, Inuit and Metis), the Canadian government, and Canadian society as a whole.' The Commission was charged with proposing specific solutions, guided by domestic and international experience, to the problems of those contemporary relationships, and to problems which confront aboriginal people today. Four Aboriginal and three non-Aboriginal Commissioners were appointed to undertake the task. |
The Commission spent four years in consultations, research and reflection, and its Report on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (the Report) was made public in 1996. The Report proposed that the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada be fundamentally restructured, and based in ethical principles to which all participants subscribed freely. The findings and recommendations of the Report were acknowledged in the Canadian federal government's subsequent Aboriginal Action Plan, Gathering Strength, which was released in 1998.
|In the course of its research, the Commission conducted 178 days of public hearings, visited 96 communities, consulted large numbers of experts, commissioned a multitude of research studies, and reviewed many past inquiries and reports. The central conclusion drawn by the Commissioners was that 'the main policy direction, pursued for more than 150 years, first by colonial then by Canadian governments, has been wrong'. The Report condemned the assimilationist policies of governments and maintained that there can be 'no peace or harmony unless there is justice'. |
The five volume, 4000 page Report explored a comprehensive range of issues and made 440 recommendations for fundamental change to the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and Canadian governments. The Report envisaged a new relationship, based on the recognition of Aboriginal people as self-governing nations with a unique place in the Canadian confederation. It set out a long term (20 year) agenda for change, recommended new legislation and institutions, increased resources, land redistribution, and the rebuilding of Aboriginal nations, governments and communities. The Report also recommended immediate action in several areas including economic development, healing, human resources development, and the establishment of Aboriginal institutions. The Commission's implementation strategy recommended that governments increase spending to achieve these goals, arguing that increased investment would save money in the long term. The central recommendations of the Commission included:
Implementation of legislation including a Royal Proclamation articulating Canada's commitment to a new relationship, accompanied by legislation establishing a treaty process and recognition of Aboriginal nations and governments;
Recognition of an Aboriginal order of government, with jurisdiction over matters relating to the good government and welfare of Aboriginal people and their territories;
Replacement of the federal Department of Indian Affairs with two departments — one with responsibility for the implementation of the new relationship with Aboriginal nations, and the other to provide services to non-self-governing communities;
Creation of an Aboriginal parliament;
Expansion of the Aboriginal land resource base;
Recognition of Metis self-government and hunting and fishing rights, and the provision of a land base; and
Initiatives to address social, educational, health and housing issues, including training of health professionals, establishment of an Aboriginal people's university, and recognition of Aboriginal nations' authority over childcare.
The response to the Report from Aboriginal groups was generally a positive one. Its recommendations generated expectations for a government response which was eventually forthcoming in Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan, Gathering Strength (see link below).