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THE REPORT OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE REPORT OF THE ROYAL
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) issued its final report in November 1996. The five-volume, 4,000-page report covered a vast range of issues; its 440 recommendations called for sweeping changes to the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and governments in Canada. In response, Aboriginal communities and organizations pressed for action on the recommendations.
The report centred on a vision of a new relationship, founded on the recognition of Aboriginal peoples as self-governing nations with a unique place in Canada. It set out a 20-year agenda for change, recommending new legislation and institutions, additional resources, a redistribution of land and the rebuilding of Aboriginal nations, governments and communities. Recognizing that autonomy is not realistic without significant community development, RCAP called for early action in four areas; healing, economic development, human resources development, and the building of Aboriginal institutions. The Commissions implementation strategy proposed that governments increase spending to reach $1.5 billion by Year 5 of the strategy, and $2 billion in the subsequent 15 years. The report argued that the additional investment over 20 years would save money in the long term.
Major recommendations included the following:
creation of an Aboriginal parliament;
The report highlighted several realities of importance to legislators and policy-makers. For example, today a significant percentage of Aboriginal people in Canada live in urban areas. Questions of urban self-government and disputes over government responsibility for the provision of services are therefore becoming increasingly prominent. A second demographic fact is that the Aboriginal population is currently growing at about twice the rate of the Canadian population; over half the Aboriginal population is under the age of 25. This has accentuated the need to address education, job creation, justice, health and recreation for Aboriginal youth.
The Royal Commission report was generally welcomed by Aboriginal groups, although not without some disagreement, and generated expectations for a government response. It received significant media attention upon its release, but faded from the public agenda in the ensuing months. In December 1996, the Prime Minister said that the government needed time to study the recommendations and would not issue a response prior to a general election. The then Minister of Indian Affairs stated that it would be difficult to increase spending to the level proposed by the Commission. In April 1997, the Assembly of First Nations held a national day of protest to express its anger over perceived government inaction and the refusal of the Prime Minister to meet with First Nations leaders to discuss the report.
In January 1998, the government responded to the RCAP report. Gathering Strength: Canadas Aboriginal Action Plan set out a policy framework for future government action based on four objectives, each encompassing a number of elements.
Pursuant to this framework, the Minister of the day and the then National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations announced a preliminary action agenda that outlined specific initiatives for immediate action and identified areas for future action. The agenda was to be developed further by First Nations and federal departments to include the resources that would be required from the federal government for implementation and identification of potential changes in government organization.
In January 1999 and July 2000, the Minister of Indian Affairs and the Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians released progress reports reviewing developments under headings outlined above. On both occasions, the government acknowledged the urgent need to address the lagging socio-economic conditions affecting Aboriginal peoples in Canada, particularly in light of rapid growth in the Aboriginal population. The July 2000 report asserts that a process of change "has begun to address key dimensions of the relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal people" and that, "though Gathering Strength is a long-term plan, in just two short years it has produced impressive results." In April 2000, then National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine stated that "the promises made by the Government of Canada represented the potential for a major step," but that these commitments arising out of the RCAP report "have not fully been implemented or honoured in the way in which we had anticipated." He nevertheless expressed hope that they would "one day, with proper management, and implementation in good faith, ... bear fruit." Others have viewed Gathering Strength measures less optimistically, and have questioned their adequacy as a response to the RCAP report.
The governments general approach to the RCAP report has been the subject of critical observations by national and international human rights bodies. In December 1998, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights "[viewed] with concern the direct connection between Aboriginal economic marginalization and the ongoing dispossession of Aboriginal people from their lands, as recognized by RCAP," and expressed its "[great] concern that the recommendations of RCAP have not yet been implemented, in spite of the urgency of the situation." In April 1999, the United Nations Human Rights Committee also expressed concern that Canada had "not yet implemented the recommendations of the [RCAP]," and recommended "that decisive and urgent action be taken towards the full implementation of the RCAP recommendations on land and resource allocation." In its 1999 Annual Report, the Canadian Human Rights Commission "reiterate[d] the view expressed in previous annual reports that the governments response to the 1996 report of the [RCAP] has been slow. We would not wish to minimize the significance of steps such as the ... $350 million Healing Fund, nor deny the good intentions underlying Gathering Strength ... Nonetheless, much more attention still needs to be given to pressing issues ."
At this time, it remains difficult to predict whether or to what degree Gathering Strength programs may produce outcomes equivalent to those advocated by the RCAPs principal recommendations.