The social, economic, and political landscape of Aboriginal Canada has changed profoundly in recent decades, yet academic analysts and government policy makers have been slow to adapt. This is the message of Reconfiguring Aboriginal-State Relations, a title just released by Queen’s University’s Institute of Intergovernmental Relations. While land claims and self-government do (and will continue to) comprise key issues for many Aboriginal peoples, there is an equally pressing need to address the needs and priorities of off-reserve populations, particularly the expanding urban Aboriginal population. Efforts to address self-government must also be supplemented by initiatives to help Aboriginal peoples acquire an effective voice in the broader institutions of the Canadian federation, including key intergovernmental forums, federal and provincial parliaments, and municipal governance structures.
Several key themes stand out in the volume. One is the need to balance the current emphasis on broad legal and political principles with greater attention to how Aboriginal governance can be realized in practice, and on how specific governance models can make a concrete difference in terms of the social and economic well-being of Aboriginal people. Another is the need to set aside intergovernmental squabbles over constitutional responsibility for the urban Aboriginal population in favour of pragmatic and co-operative approaches to urban policies and programs which include Aboriginal representatives as full partners in decision-making. With recent public opinion polls showing low levels of public support, particularly among youth, for improving the quality of life of Aboriginal Canadians, federal leadership on this file is crucial. At the same time, the federal government must move away from its past tendency towards unilateralism in this policy area – a lesson the government hopefully has learned in the wake of its second abortive attempt to force through changes to the Indian Act over the objections of Aboriginal leadership and community members. The federal government must move away from an approach that treats Aboriginal peoples as the passive recipients or subjects of government policy towards an alternative where Aboriginal representatives are viewed as full and equal partners in policy-making and implementation.
This publication is available from:
The Institute of Intergovernmental Relations