Decolonial Discourse: Trudeau Splits INAC in Two

Dividing INAC will not improve the quality of life for Indigenous Canadians
Justin Bige, Contributor

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jane Philpott believes that colonial structures will soon be dismantled. (The Province of British Columbia – Flickr)

Where decolonization seeks the demise of colonial hydras, such as the department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), Justin Trudeau instead splits one head into two.

The Liberal government has divided INAC into the Ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs (CIRNA) and the Ministry of Indigenous Services (IS), appointing Carolyn Bennett and Jane Philpott, respectively, as ministers on Aug. 28. These colonial structures have been renamed and divided into separate portfolios, which fails to benefit Indigenous people. It only serves to double the bureaucracy that already harms the people it’s meant to help.

This decision by Trudeau’s Liberal government lacked consultation with Indigenous people, whom the change primarily affects. The same day as the announcement, CBC interviewed Pam Palmater, Mi’kmaq lawyer and chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University in Toronto. She spoke of her concerns with the division of bureaucracy into two separate departments.

“We’ve yet to hear what the actual plan’s going to be,” she said. “And [for] me personally, who works with a lot of First Nations on the ground, it’s enough to deal with one Indian Affairs and one set of rules.”

For Indigenous people, broken Liberal promises and hollow rhetoric have become tiresome. First, there are the failures around the national inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls to address police conduct, which is mired behind bureaucratic fortresses and terrible consultation.

Second, Trudeau has recently announced that the government’s goal of ending boil-water advisories on reserves should be completed by 2020, one year after the next election. This late conclusion erodes any guarantee of results by the government despite clean water on reserves being a pre-election and post-election promise to Indigenous peoples.

The 2 per cent cap on post-secondary funding for Indigenous students was promised to be lifted and has not been. General education, youth care, and health funding were also promised to balance out inequities faced by Indigenous peoples. This is stipulated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

If broken promises are the currency that the Liberal party doles out to Indigenous people, the division of INAC into two departments is a gold mine, and the intention to dismantle colonial structures is concerning for Indigenous people to hear from Justin Trudeau. Such a statement could be interpreted as reference to his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and his legacy.

Under Trudeau Senior’s government, legislation known as The White Paper was pushed out to end Indian status and strike the Indian Act without any intermediary legislation to support Indigenous sovereignty or treaties with Canada. He called Indian status, “Citizen Plus Status”, which survives today in the widespread misconceptions around “benefits” Indigenous people apparently receive from the Indian Act.

Another concern is the appointment of Jane Philpott to the Ministry of Indigenous Services. Philpott was previously the Minister of Health, although she failed to implement Jordan’s Principle—a court response expediting emergency funding for health care after an Indigenous boy died awaiting funding—amongst various other failures in that position.

Carolyn Bennett, Minister of CIRNA and previous Minister of INAC, met with various Indigenous leaders last year in response to INAC occupations across Canada. She has yet to come through on promises she made to address suicide crises on reserves, particularly Attawapiskat, among other issues.

Sweet rhetoric and the use of buzzwords do not mean much to Indigenous people today. In a press conference, Philpott purported, “these colonial structures, today, will in fact be dismantled, and it is a historic day.”

When CBC asked Palmater for her thoughts, she responded, “They’ve just doubled the colonial structures. They, amongst themselves, have decided how they want to move forward, and they’ve decided two is better than one when it comes to Indian Affairs.”

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