National Post – Father Raymond J. de Souza

Carolyn Bennett (left), minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs looks on as Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott speaks to media after a Liberal cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

To the bureaucratic mindset, the answer to a stubborn problem is always another bureau. Productivity is lacking? Establish a minister of innovation. Fitness is flagging? A minster for sport

The latest new beginning on the aboriginal file was announced this week in Ottawa. The much-derided department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada will be split in two: Indigenous Services will attend to the delivery of government programs, while Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs will focus on the broad relationship.

If you are the sort to think that more government attention is what Canada’s Indigenous people need, perhaps you would welcome the move. Alternately, you might think this latest move, in the context of Canada’s 150th anniversary “celebrations”, marks the end of any reasonable hope for aboriginal advancement, perhaps for a generation.

The new approach is that Indigenous Services will continue the usual bang-up job the government does of managing the billions the federal government spends on status Indians for welfare, child services, schools, housing, safe water and health care.

If you think more government attention is what Indigenous people need, perhaps you welcome the move

The Crown-Indigenous bureau will handle the broader relations on treaties, land claims, environmental consultations and the like. Carolyn Bennett, the minister of this new department said that “it’s about de-colonizing. It’s about getting rid of paternalism.”

Government departments regulate and spend, the latter of which comes with certain oversight for accountability. Regulation and oversight are by nature activities that are — if you are inclined to characterize it that way — paternalistic. That’s what we call it when we are discussing aboriginal matters, employing the masculine image. When we are talking about everybody else, we opt for the feminine and call it the nanny state. Paternalism or maternalism, it is generally what government does. If you want less of it, you need less government.

Why does the future look bleak? Recall where we were exactly 25 years ago this week, at one of the previous new beginnings. On Aug. 28, 1992, the Charlottetown Accord was signed by the first ministers and aboriginal leaders. That Accord — defeated in a referendum in October of the same year — proposed to establish aboriginal self-government in the constitution, making it a third order of government akin to the federal and provincial governments, with its own power to pass laws.

Paternalism or maternalism, it is generally what government does

One hears very little about aboriginal self-government today, and has not in recent years. The likely reason is that a new story is now the dominant tale that is told, reaching great prominence in this sesquicentennial year of Confederation. The dominant tale is that the relations between “crown” — French, British and then the Dominion of Canada — and Indigenous people are a tragic tale of brutality and racism. The idea of Canada as a “genocidal” project — endorsed by no less than the chief justice of Canada — moves Crown-Indigenous relations on to the territory of restitution and ameliorative initiatives.

What it precludes is any serious emphasis on Indigenous peoples as protagonists of their own development. If the dominant story is that Canada has done horrific things to its first peoples, the solution must be for Canada to do honourable things to its first peoples. The protagonist though remains the same, Canada’s government.

In the Charlottetown negotiations, a rather different dynamic was at work. It was thought then that Indigenous Canadians needed to be freed from government ministrations. Twenty-five years later, they have got another government ministry.

Why does the future look bleak? Recall where we were exactly 25 years ago

Somewhere along the last 25 years the aspiration of self-governing, responsible, democratic, accountable governance for aboriginal peoples was lost. Partly it was the reluctance to touch the constitutional file for any reason. Partly it was opposition from entrenched interests among existing aboriginal power brokers, who do profit mightily from the existing system, however much it fails the people they represent. Partly it was the emergence of the residential schools issue, which put compensation and settlements on the front burner. Regardless, the vision of aboriginal Canadians as agents of their own future is less bold now than a generation ago.

To the bureaucratic mindset, the answer to a stubborn problem is always another bureau. Productivity is lacking? Establish a minister of innovation. Fitness is flagging? A minster for sport. Bridges are crumbling, traffic is clogged? A minister for infrastructure. Weather has got you down? A minister for climate change.

The answer is always more government. By now, it ought to be clear that Indigenous Canadians have had more than enough of that. This year’s new beginning promise more of the same.  Why should we expect the results to be any different?