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. On 18 July 2018, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada became Crown-Indigenous Relations Canada. Northern affairs was moved to a new department: Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade Canada. (See also Federal Departments of Indian and Northern Affairs.)
Crown-Indigenous Relations oversees Indigenous-government relations, including matters pertaining to treaty rights and self-government. 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. Indigenous Services has also taken control of the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, which was transferred from Health Canada to the new department in 2017. The first and current minister of Indigenous Services Canada is Jane Philpott.
Carolyn Bennett, the first minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, described INAC as “outdated and paternalistic...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.
Indigenous Services Canada is responsible for improving access to services for First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, and to support self-determination as a means of empowering Indigenous peoples to eventually control the delivery of services in their community. The department aims to move forward with this mandate in partnership with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, while also recognizing the differences among these diverse communities.
Indigenous Services outlined five priority areas of its 2018–19 agenda: improving health outcomes, quality education, family and child welfare, infrastructure, and developing a new fiscal relationship with Indigenous communities.
The department seeks to improve the health of Indigenous peoples by providing, among other provisions, long-term funding for health care and sustainable and sufficient health resources in Indigenous-led health systems. (See also Health of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)
Supporting culturally-appropriate curricula and Indigenous-led schooling is part of the department’s second priority to improve education services in Indigenous communities. (See also Education of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.) The department also seeks to improve family and child welfare; in 2018, the federal government allocated $1.4 billion over six years to support Indigenous children and families.
Indigenous Services’ fourth area of interest is in creating and sustaining a reliable infrastructure, including the improvement of housing, water and wastewater, roads and energy systems. (See also Social Conditions of Indigenous Peoples.)
Building a new fiscal relationship with Indigenous communities is the fifth goal. The department seeks to provide long-term funding solutions as well as to support Indigenous-led services and the creation of fiscal relationships based on mutual accountability.