POLITICS

Some prominent milestones in Canada's troubled relations with First Nations

06/03/2015 04:15 EDT | Updated 06/03/2016 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - Some landmarks in the long and uneasy relationship between Canada and First Nations.

June 2, 2015: Truth and Reconciliation Commission issues its final report. It says the survivors endured a "cultural genocide" that tore apart their families and left them to contend with lifelong scars of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It includes dozens of harrowing individual accounts. The report includes 94 recommendations —everything from greater police independence, more education for all Canadians on the horrors of the school system and reducing the number of aboriginal children in foster care to restrictions on the use of conditional and mandatory minimum sentences.

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April 10, 2014: The Harper government brings in the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, which promises core funding of $1.25 billion from 2016–17 to 2018–19 for native schools. The bill ends up stalled after a groundswell of opposition among native chiefs, which also leads to the resignation of Shawn Atleo as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

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Jan. 11, 2013: The Idle no More movement holds a day-long meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. After the meeting, John Duncan, the minister of aboriginal affairs, promises more "high-level dialogue," follow-up meetings and more frequent reporting on aboriginal matters by the federal government. Few concrete results are forthcoming, however.

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June 11, 2008: Prime Minister Stephen Harper offers a formal apology in the House of Commons for the residential school system. While many First Nations welcome the apology, some warn that talk is cheap and ask for concrete changes.

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Sept. 19, 2007: The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement goes into effect. It includes almost $2 billion for compensation payments to former students and establishes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to chronicle the experiences of residential school survivors.

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Nov. 24-25, 2005: A first ministers meeting led by then-prime minister Paul Martin agrees to the Kelowna Accord. The deal promises a new relationship between Canada and Aboriginal Peoples. The federal government pledges $5 billion over five years to improve the socio-economic conditions of aboriginal people with the aim of bringing the standard of living for Aboriginal Peoples up to that of other Canadians by 2016. But Parliament was dissolved before money could be allocated; the Harper government, which came to office in 2006, rejected the deal as too pricey.

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Nov. 21, 1996: The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People releases its final report. The commission was established in 1991, in the wake of the 1990 Oka Crisis. The seven-member body produces more than 400 recommendations, many of which would languish until they were echoed almost 20 years later by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. "The social, economic and political weaknesses of most modern aboriginal communities stem from the failure of imperial, colonial and Canadian authorities to respond to Aboriginal Peoples' request for the opportunity to evolve in harmony with the growth of the non-aboriginal society emerging around them."

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1969: The Trudeau government tables its White Paper, a proposal to repeal the Indian Act, end federal responsibility for First Nations and terminate special status for aboriginals. It proposed transferring Indian affairs to provincial governments, which would then administer services for First Nations. It was withdrawn in 1971 after First Nations overwhelmingly rejected it. Their main complaint was that they had not been consulted at all.

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March 10, 1960: Parliament gives First Nations people the right to vote without having to give up their status in exchange.

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1951: Amendments to the Indian Act give bands more control over the administration of their communities and over the use of band funds and revenues. National pension benefits and other health and welfare benefits are extended to First Nations. But the Indian Affairs department still retains wide powers and the residential school system is left intact, to the detriment of thousands of children who will not get to tell their stories or hear an apology for 60 years.

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1946-49: A special joint parliamentary committee of MPs and senators conducts a series of hearings to review government policies and management of First Nations issues. The hearings highlight the effects of decades of assimilation polices. Its report recommended that unilateral and mandatory elements of the Indian Act be scaled back or revised. The committee also recommended that a claims commission be established to hear problems arising from the fulfilment of treaties. Some changes are made, but the status quo generally prevails.

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1883: Indian Affairs policy on First Nations education focuses on residential schools as a primary vehicle for "civilization" and "assimilation." This would lead to a century of suffering for thousands of First Nations children and their families. The policy will be termed "cultural genocide" in 2015.

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1876: The federal government brings in the Indian Act, a consolidation of previous regulations pertaining to First Nations. It gave great authority to the federal Department of Indian Affairs. The department could intervene in a variety of internal band issues and make broad policy decisions, such as determining who was an Indian. Under the act, the government would also manage Indian lands, resources and money, control access to intoxicants and promote "civilization." The act is the root of much of the trouble to follow.