Creation of the Department
In 2017, the government of Justin Trudeau implemented a recommendation of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) by dissolving Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and replacing it with two new departments: Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. (See also Federal Departments of Indian and Northern Affairs.)
Indigenous Services works toward improving the quality of services delivered to Indigenous peoples, with the eventual goal of having these services delivered by Indigenous communities rather than the Crown. Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (which became Crown-Indigenous Relations Canada in July 2018) oversees Indigenous-government relations, including matters pertaining to treaty rights and self-government. Northern affairs is now part the Department of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade Canada.
Carolyn Bennett, the first minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, described INAC as “outdated and paternalistic... designed to enforce the Indian Act.” The new departments, on the other hand, are “distinctions-based and rooted in the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.” The federal government described the restructuring of this department as a “next step” to abolishing the Indian Act.
Crown-Indigenous Relations builds on the work of INAC by advancing federal-First Nations relations, Inuit-Crown relations and federal-Métis government relations, as a means of supporting self-determination and matters similarly relating to Indigenous peoples in Canada, such as land claims and reconciliation. (See also Truth and Reconciliation Commission.)
The department has outlined priority areas for its 2018–19 agenda, including improving relationships with Indigenous peoples and encouraging self-government.
Accelerating the renewal of federal-Indigenous relations includes recognizing and addressing past injustices, such as residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, as well as implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. In partnership with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, the department seeks to develop an Indigenous rights framework before 2019, as a means of working toward issues such as the resolution of land claims and closing socio-economic gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. (See also Social Conditions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada; Economic Conditions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)
The goal of supporting self-determination is meant to provide Indigenous peoples with the power to control their own communities. The department aims to increase the progress of both comprehensive modern treaties and new self-government agreements.