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1. Introduction - Reconciliation:
On May 10, 2006, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement3 (IRSSA) was
signed in Canada. The event was heralded as the beginning of a new chapter in Canada’s
relationship with its Indigenous Peoples (First Nations, Inuit, Innu and Métis).
It was seen as more than an acknowledgement of the truth about atrocities committed
against Aboriginal children in the Indian Residential Schools (IRS) system. It was
seen as the first step towards reconciliation between Canada and its Indigenous Peoples.
The IRSSA was implemented on September 19, 2007.
Included within the IRSSA was schedule “N”, the mandate for a truth and reconciliation
commission. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), considered to be the cornerstone
of the IRSSA, began its work on June 1, 2008. Overall goals of the TRC focus on promoting
healing, educating, listening, and the preparation of a report for all parties that
includes recommendations for the Government of Canada regarding the IRS system, experience
On June 11, 2008, Canada’s Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, publically
apologized to Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples for the IRS system, admitting that residential
schools were part of a Canadian policy on forced Aboriginal assimilation. Prime Minister
Harper and the leaders of every major federal political party in Canada publically
decreed there was no place left in Canada for the policy of forced Aboriginal assimilation.
Nothing has changed since the IRRSA was signed: The Inuit in Nunavut are still without
food, First Nation women are still missing in British Columbia, Aboriginal suicide
rates and life expectancies have not changed, there is no Aboriginal education system,
the gap in wealth between Aboriginal communities and non-Aboriginal communities has
not narrowed, etc.; and, unfortunately, nothing will change. There is simply no mechanism
in place that will result in the change needed to solve these and other problems
facing Canada’s native people; problems created by the IRS system and the policy
of forced assimilation.
Reconciliation is the act of reconciling where, in this instance, to reconcile is
to restore, repair or make good again to achieve a settlement. The TRC’s mandate
is about revealing the IRS system for what it was. It is not about restoration. Aboriginal
people in Canada still need to have their lives restored to achieve settlement. They
need to be given back tools taken from them through which solutions can be built.
These tools are traditional Aboriginal infrastructures, infrastructures that were
destroyed by the IRS system and forced assimilation. Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples
need to have their traditional infrastructures restored and repaired to achieve settlement
and permanently solve problems facing their communities.
2. Infrastructure - Definition and Dysfunction:
Infrastructure is the basic underlying framework of an organization. On a national
level, it is the framework of rights, laws, regulations, services, and roles that
are essential in building a program to respond to a citizen’s need (Diagram 1). Rights
provide the foundation for a nation’s identity. The expression of rights defines
the identity of the nation to whom the infrastructure belongs. This national identity
is visibly expressed as the moral fabric of a nation within the aggregate of its
laws and regulations. Services and roles that respect the law and regulations of
a nation therefore respect rights of citizens within that nation. Therein lies the
foundational problem in Canada’s relationship with its Aboriginal People.
Non-aboriginal people built Canadian law and regulation purposely excluding Aboriginal
rights. Because of this, the identity of Canada’s Indigenous people is not part of
Canada’s national fabric and so, Canadian law and regulation do not allow the expression
(protection) of Aboriginal rights. Canada’s policies, legislation, services and programs
therefore do not recognize, and are antagonistic to, Aboriginal rights to self-determination,
self-governance, manage traditional lands, and develop distinct economies based on
traditional pursuits. The dysfunctional legacy from Canada’s refusal to protect Aboriginal
rights is the absence of functioning (respectful) traditional Aboriginal infrastructure
(services and roles); including infrastructures for, trade and commerce, education,
resource management, traditional foods, health, justice and more.
In 1982, when Aboriginal and Treaty rights were included into the Constitution Act,
Canada created a dichotomy that, if left unresolved, will lead to the separation
of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples and destroy Canada. Canada recognized Aboriginal rights
without an infrastructure through which they could be expressed and respected, placing
Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people on a collision course. There are only two paths
now available to Canada:
1- Canada can refuse to change, preventing further infiltration of Aboriginal rights
into Canadian infrastructure. However, this path will violate the Constitution Act
(1982) and international laws on the rights of Indigenous People6 and Genocide7.
The ultimate result of this choice will be the division of Canada into Aboriginal
and non-aboriginal states.
2- Canada can change, respectfully harmonizing Aboriginal rights and identities into
Canadian infrastructure. This can be done by obtaining definition for Aboriginal
law and regulation through meaningful consultation. The ultimate result of this
path will be the restoration of Aboriginal rights, respect, and missing traditional
infrastructure; the reconciliation of Canada with its First Peoples.
All of Canada’s infrastructures have been built without the inclusion of Aboriginal
rights. Now that Aboriginal rights have been recognized by Canadian legislation within
the constitution, Canada’s infrastructure must change or Canada must enforce its
policy of forced assimilation and continue living a lie. In words from the Report
of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples8,
“A country cannot be built on a living lie. We know now, if the original settlers
did not, that this country was not terra nullius at the time of contact and that
the newcomers did not ‘discover’ it in any meaningful sense. We know also that the
peoples who lived here had their own systems of law and governance, their own customs,
languages and cultures. They were not untutored and ignorant; they were simply cast
by the Creator in a different mould, one beyond the experience and comprehension
of the new arrivals. They had a different view of the world and their place in it
and a different set of norms and values to live by.”
The means to reconciliation is through the rebuilding of destroyed traditional Aboriginal
infrastructures. Infrastructure is rebuilt by harmonizing Aboriginal rights and identities
with Canadian infrastructure to create respectful infrastructures that honour and
protect both Aboriginal and non-aboriginal rights.
3. Rebuilding Infrastructure:
Detailed national infrastructures do not exist until citizens have a need that must
be met. Aboriginal Peoples in Canada are in need and have been for decades. The reason
their needs have not been met is because Aboriginal rights have been withheld by
Canada’s assimilation policy.
a. Mechanism of Change:
When citizens have a need, it must be translated into a functional program capable
of providing the solution to that need. The process happening between the need and
the functioning program is the mechanism of change. The finished mechanism of change
for a nation’s need is the infrastructure for the program providing the solution
A valid national need is supported by rights. Rights are inherent, contractual or
legislated. Rights supporting a valid national need are expressed in law and interpreted
by regulation. Regulations provide the blueprint for supporting services that are
supplied by various governmental and non-governmental agencies, each playing their
own role in the final solution. In national infrastructure, a functioning program
supplies the final solution. The national infrastructure for a solution includes
rights, law and regulations, and services and roles. Programs are not infrastructure.
They are solutions created from functioning infrastructure.
Aboriginal rights were recognized by Canada in 1982, yet there has been no advancement
of these rights through the mechanism of change. Canada has prevented the progression
of Aboriginal rights into law and regulations by enforcing non-aboriginal law and
regulations that antagonistically suppress Aboriginal rights. The most appropriate
example of this is with the Aboriginal right to hunt for livelihood in Ontario. The
Constitution Act and Treaties signed with Ontario’s First Nations guarantee the right
to hunt for livelihood but the provincial government has legislated against commercial
wildlife harvest, enforcing this law against First Nations. Further, Ontario withholds
economic development funds for traditional First Nation wildlife-based economic development
and meaningful Aboriginal consultation on wildlife management while managing wildlife
populations9 by retailing hunting rights to non-aboriginal recreational hunters.
The Province of Ontario is not an isolated example.
b. Elder Consultation:
With Aboriginal rights guaranteed by the Constitution Act, the next step in the mechanism
of change is to have Aboriginal rights expressed into law and interpreted by regulation.
This is accomplished with a national Elder consultation process2.
For simplicity, a nation is a body of people sharing a common culture. A nation can
also be functionally defined by its laws and regulations (Nation = Law + Regulations).
Culture is defined by its tradition and customs (Culture = Tradition + Customs).
However, traditions are laws and customs are regulations. In this context, again
for simplicity, Nation = Culture. This may seem like semantics but these simple equations
provide the key to defining Aboriginal law and regulation for rebuilding missing
infrastructure (Diagram 3).
Aboriginal tradition (oral law) is carried by Elders and Aboriginal customs (regulations)
are carried within the Aboriginal nation by those parts of the nation whose roles
are to manage traditional law (councils). To capture Aboriginal law and regulation
as a blueprint for a missing infrastructure, temporal interpretations of oral law
must be spoken on rights by Elders and then brought through the Aboriginal nation
in consultation format; Elders, communities and the nation’s institutions (councils)2.
As the results of the Elder consultation spread through the nation, the regulation
framework of a missing traditional infrastructure gains definition. This national
Elder consultation process provides the nation’s traditional law and regulation to
rebuild missing infrastructure services and roles.
Aboriginal Peoples in Canada have multiple missing infrastructures and will need
to be consulted in a nation by nation manner with nation-defined national Elder consultation
c. Pilot Project:
As mentioned earlier, national infrastructure does not exist until a citizen has
a need that must be met. We can recognize Aboriginal rights and undertake a national
Elder consultation process to express rights into law and define regulation for a
given infrastructure. However, infrastructure services and roles are tailored to
meet a need. They can not be rebuilt until the nation has a need for them. A pilot
project is needed to build the services and roles step in the mechanism of change.
The pilot project is a specific focussed need that has a high profile and whose resolution
would have a significant impact on the Aboriginal nation involved in rebuilding its
infrastructures. It is the high profile nature and final impact of the pilot project
that provides both the driving force for everyone to work diligently and the yardstick
to measure the new infrastructure’s success in providing the solution to the pilot
project’s need. An example of a focussed pilot project would be the building of a
traditional food infrastructure for the Inuit of Nunavut to provide affordable food
and reverse the region’s trend towards starvation.
Regardless of which Aboriginal nation a pilot project occurs within, it will create
an infrastructure framework. This framework can be used as an adaptable base to more
quickly build similar missing infrastructures within other Aboriginal nations. Each
of the other nations will still need to undergo a national Elder consultation process
to fine tune the framework for their own laws and regulations.
As an example: In February 2008 the Government of Canada announced it would spend
$70 million over two years on its objective to establish a new framework for Aboriginal
economic development. Given an understanding of the mechanism of change and the ability
of a pilot project to create an infrastructure framework, a pilot program could have
been initiated in one nation and the generated infrastructure framework could have
been used as a starting base for the rest of the country. An economic development
infrastructure pilot program in Treaty #3 would have cost approximately $5 million
leaving $65 million for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to harmonize the
Treaty #3 framework infrastructure with Canadian infrastructure and to fund national
Elder consultation processes in other Aboriginal nations to fine tune the framework
for their laws and regulations. Please note though, economic development is an infrastructure
built on other supporting core infrastructures. These supporting core infrastructures
would have to be built before or at the same time as building an economic development
infrastructure framework or there would be no new “functioning” programs created.
Aboriginal and non-aboriginal infrastructure can not exist separately in Canada.
This is a dichotomy that leads to permanent division of the country. Aboriginal and
non-aboriginal infrastructures must harmonize to provide the blended infrastructure
able to provide programs with solutions that respect both cultures. At this point
in our mechanism of change we have Aboriginal rights guaranteed by the Constitution
Act, Aboriginal law and regulations from the Elder consultation process, and we have
defined blueprints for Aboriginal services and roles. In essence, we have the Aboriginal
infrastructure we are rebuilding written on paper.
The harmonization process is simple. Each level of the infrastructure must be harmonized
between the Aboriginal infrastructure and existing non-aboriginal infrastructure;
rights to rights, law to law, etc. We must ensure there are no conflicts at each
level of the infrastructure. Identified conflicts must be resolved at this point
in infrastructure rebuilding, before the pilot project is implemented.
Virtually all conflict will arise from Embedded Forced Assimilation Barriers (EFABs).
EFABs are laws, regulations, services, roles, or programs that were designed under
the auspices of Canada’s policy on Aboriginal displacement and forced assimilation.
Their purpose was to block Aboriginal rights from being realized while removing existing
rights to lands and resources. In essence, EFABs are the tool used to destroy and
withhold traditional Aboriginal infrastructure in Canada. The Prime Minister of Canada,
and every major Canadian political leader, may have stood in front of the world to
decree that Canada has no place for a policy on forced Aboriginal assimilation, however,
not one Canadian infrastructure has been screened to remove its EFABs. Forced Aboriginal
assimilation, and its ensuing genocide, is very much alive in Canada until the infrastructure
harmonization process identifies and removes EFABs.
e. Pilot Project Implementation:
The pilot project should be implemented as soon as its infrastructure finishes the
harmonization process. The implementation of the pilot project will:
- Identify unforseen obstacles as early as possible in the dissemination process; and,
- Validate the correct functioning of the infrastructure by producing the program(s)
needed to solve the high profile conflict in the Aboriginal nation chosen for the
f. Dissemination and Implementation:
At this point in infrastructure rebuilding, the missing Aboriginal infrastructure
has been defined and harmonized with non-aboriginal infrastructure. This gives us
the general infrastructure framework of rights, law, regulation, services and roles
to bring to the rest of Canada’s Aboriginal nations.
The general infrastructure framework must be disseminated to each Aboriginal nation
in Canada to fine tune it through nation-specific national Elder consultation processes.
These fine tuned infrastructures must again pass through the harmonization process.
When harmonized, the new Canada-wide Aboriginal infrastructure is ready to be implemented
for nation-specific needs.
g. Final Reconciliation:
The final reconciliation is not so much a step in traditional Aboriginal infrastructure
rebuilding as a milestone. When each of the missing infrastructures has gone through
a pilot project, the general framework adjusted for each nation and these new Aboriginal
infrastructures implemented, Canada will have reconciled with its Indigenous Peoples.
4. Phase 1: Pilot Program Development:
To rebuild a missing traditional Aboriginal infrastructure we need to initiate the
mechanism of change defined earlier. This includes:
- A national Elder consultation process;
- A high profile pilot project whose solution has a significant impact;
- Harmonization of the new infrastructure;
- Implementation of the pilot project;
- Dissemination of the general framework for Elder consultation processes in other
- Additional harmonization; and,
- Final implementation across Canada.
To rebuild all missing traditional infrastructure, we need to bring a high profile
pilot project for each of the missing infrastructures through the mechanism of change
and then disseminate and implement them across Canada. The core infrastructures that
need development are:
- Trade and commerce;
- Traditional Food;
- Resource Management;
- Governance; and,
There will be other non-core missing infrastructures that need rebuilding; ie. economic
development. As they arise, they can follow the same rebuilding process building
on top of core infrastructures.
Choosing where Phase 1 core pilot infrastructures will be developed depends on the
strength of the pilot project. We simply choose the area of Canada with the most
conflict or need in each of these missing infrastructure areas. For examples:
- Nunavut, traditional food;
- British Columbia, justice;
- Northwestern Ontario, trade and commerce; and
- Saskatchewan, resource management.
Canada’s Aboriginal people are both urban and land based and they are First Nation,
Inuit, Innu and Métis. Infrastructure needs to be restored for all of these groups.
However, not all of these groups need each of the eight core infrastructures.
5. Fear of Change:
Canada’s policy on forced Aboriginal assimilation was given a death sentence on June
11, 2008. We simply need to untangle it from the fabric of Canada. The rebuilding
of missing Aboriginal infrastructure will remove embedded forced assimilation barriers
(EFABs) from Canada’s policies, legislation, regulation, government departments and
agencies, and programs. A Canada liberated from its shackles of forced Aboriginal
assimilation will be free to grow in new, prosperous directions with its Aboriginal
Not everyone in Canada will rejoice at the prospect of joint stewardship with Aboriginal
People. In general, there will be three groups that will fear change because they
perceive they will profit more from maintaining the status quo. These are:
- Select government departments and agencies;
- Resource-based corporations; and,
- Miscellaneous Aboriginal groups.
Government departments and agencies involved with control of renewable resources
(timber, wildlife, fish, etc.), non-renewable resources (mining, oil, hydro-electricity,
etc.), and those managing current infrastructure for Aboriginal communities (training,
education, health, governance, etc.) will be very afraid of rebuilding traditional
infrastructure. They will fear joint decision making processes, addressing Aboriginal
concerns within the context of joint stewardship, split revenues, and the transfer
of services and budgets into rebuilt traditional infrastructure. These departments
need to understand that new traditional infrastructure and existing infrastructure
will be harmonized to include roles for both Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.
No one will lose.
Resource-based corporations have enjoyed a carte blanc in remote Canada, many times
heralded as the much needed regional employment resource. Those corporations that
have built a relationship with Aboriginal communities juxtaposed to their operations,
will not be afraid of infrastructure changes. Those that have shown contempt and
disrespect for Canada’s Aboriginal People will be very afraid of the impending inclusion
of traditional Aboriginal infrastructure. However, in the end, with whatever changes
occur, businesses will adjust and everyone will move forward.
Aboriginal communities, governances, organizations, and lobby groups have survived
by competing against each other for the insufficient funds offered by federal and
provincial authorities. This has created an environment of mistrust where there is
too little for too many. Because of this, some Aboriginal organizations have come
to consolidate their position by controlling information and resources. Unfortunately,
what these groups can’t control, they fear and speak against. These organizations
need to have fears about infrastructure rebuilding addressed so everyone can see
the process of rebuilding and implementation has enough work for all. As a point
in fact, many Aboriginal organizations will find themselves in a position where they
need to adjust or redefine their broadened role in a restored First Nation. No one
6. Need for an NGO:
There are only three types of organizations from which to choose a working group
to facilitate and oversee the pilot program development phase of missing Aboriginal
- A government organization;
- An Aboriginal organization; or,
- A non-governmental organization.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is the government organization that would
prefer to directly or indirectly control work on infrastructure pilot program development.
INAC was created as the enforcement agency for Canada’s policies on forced Aboriginal
displacement and assimilation. In this regard, INAC has played a central role in
destroying traditional Aboriginal infrastructure and centralizing non-Aboriginal
infrastructure supplied to First Nation communities under INAC control. Unfortunately,
there has been no fundamental change in INAC’s directives, policies or operations
in the period leading up to or following the Prime Minister’s announcement that forced
Aboriginal assimilation would no longer have a place in Canada. Because of this,
INAC, as an institution, will still function with EFABs even though many individuals
within INAC are sincerely dedicated to helping Aboriginal people. INAC can not facilitate
or oversee the pilot program development phase of Aboriginal infrastructure restoration.
Nevertheless, INAC has extensive personnel resources and will be involved throughout
the entire infrastructure restoration process. INAC will also have a primary role
in infrastructure harmonization and Canada-wide implementation of redefined Aboriginal
Aboriginal organizations are not impartial, many have developed as part of the current
INAC-controlled Aboriginal infrastructure, others have evolved to champion Aboriginal
rights withheld by INAC and still others have risen to prominence by controlling
information and resources. Unfortunately, there are no Aboriginal organizations that
would be impartial, respected by both Canada and Aboriginal nations, have the needed
expertise, and who would be without affiliation to either First Nations organizations
or the Government of Canada. Still, the entire infrastructure rebuilding process
can and should utilize personnel from Aboriginal organizations as both core and ancillary
To facilitate the pilot program development phase, a non-governmental organization
(NGO) is needed. This NGO should be:
- Respected by both Canada and First Nations (fair);
- Unable to profit from the results of the process (impartial);
- Without affiliation to either First Nations organizations or the Government of Canada
- Specialized in the process of infrastructure development (knowledgeable);
- Founded on the premises of consultation, education and facilitation (dedicated);
- Solely interested in doing quality work regardless of the direction the work takes
The pilot program development phase of Aboriginal infrastructure restoration needs
a very specialized not-for-profit, charitable non-governmental organization (NGO)
to fulfil these criteria.
When analysing costs, it is customary to consider the cost of maintaining the status
quo. However, Canada has recognized Aboriginal rights in the Constitution Act, implemented
the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, launched a Truth and Reconciliation
commission, publically stood and denounced forced Aboriginal assimilation, and committed
to establishing a new framework for Aboriginal economic development. The status quo
is not an option in Canada.
The pilot program development of traditional Aboriginal infrastructure can occur
with an individual missing infrastructure or proceed en mass with the pilot development
of all missing core infrastructure. It should be noted that the development of the
justice infrastructure will be twice as costly and take twice the time of other infrastructure
developments. Average approximate costs and durations for each of the infrastructure
pilot program NGO development steps are found in Table 1. Costs for pilot project
implementation would include both professional support and capital costs. Implementation
costs can not be approximated without pilot project identification and infrastructure
Infrastructure pilot program development steps within each infrastructure’s rebuilding
do not necessarily follow in series and some degree of parallel development will
occur shortening the time for development (Diagram 4).
It should be noted when the time line of Diagram 4 is extrapolated, Canada’s Aboriginal
people will have all infrastructure restored and functioning in 6 to 8 years. Assuming
Canada chooses change and reconciliation, poverty will be completely eliminated in
Aboriginal communities within 10 years.
8. Concluding Remarks:
Canada has declared an end to forced Aboriginal assimilation and set an objective
to establish a new framework for Aboriginal economic development. This objective
is focussed at ending the horrendous cycle of poverty seen in most Aboriginal communities
in Canada. This poverty was caused by the purposed destruction of traditional Aboriginal
Economic development is an end stage infrastructure supported by core infrastructures
such as trade and commerce, resource management, and traditional foods which, in
turn, are supported by other core infrastructures such as education, community, health
and governance. Any model or process for building a new framework for economic development
would have to include the restoration of destroyed core Aboriginal infrastructures.
When core Aboriginal infrastructures are rebuilt, an economic development initiative
will be a simple consultation process asking what an Aboriginal nation would like
to do and then facilitating professional help, training, and other building materials.
Despite apologies and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canada has no mechanism
through which to resolve problems created by the Indian Residential Schools system
and the policy of forced assimilation, including poverty. Aboriginal people need
to be given back their traditional core infrastructures from which, and through which,
they can permanently solve problems facing their communities.
Missing Aboriginal infrastructure can be rebuilt through a process of meaningful
consultation, harmonization, and pilot project development to yield infrastructure
frameworks. These initial infrastructure frameworks can be disseminated across Canada
for meaningful consultation, harmonization, and implementation. The harmonization
of rebuilt Aboriginal infrastructure with non-aboriginal infrastructure will remove
embedded forced assimilation barriers from within Canada creating a country capable
of honouring both cultures.
Canada now has, for the first time, a process through which systematic restoration
of traditional Aboriginal infrastructures destroyed by forced assimilation can be
accomplished. These infrastructures would already exist if Canada had not chosen
to displace and assimilate its Indigenous Peoples. When traditional Aboriginal infrastructures
are rebuilt, reconciliation will be complete. Canada will then move forward in mutual
respect and joint stewardship.
© Christian Aboriginal Infrastructure Developments
Last Updated September 15, 2015