Academics, politicians debate royal commission report
A long-awaited report on the plight of aboriginal peoples in this country was released just before Christmas. Now, academics and aboriginal people are trying to decide what impact, if any, the report will have on the lives of Canada’s Inuit, Indians and Metis.
Consensus emerged around only one issue at a conference on the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: at 3,500 pages, the report is too simply too long.
“No one here can say ‘I read the report,'” joked one speaker.
More than 700 participants came to McGill University last weekend for a conference called “Forging a New Relationship.”
In nearly 30 discussion sessions, native and non-native academics, politicians, and pundits tried to analyze the lengthy report’s call for a new relationship between Canada and aboriginal peoples.
The main thrust of the report’s 440 recommendations is the creation of a third tier of government for native peoples across Canada.
Some participants said the report could be a “tool for reconciliation” and a “blueprint for action.”
“Royal Ommission Report?”
But there were many more critics of the result of five years of study and $54 million in government funds.
The report was found to be a “Royal Ommission Report,” “seriously flawed” and even “evil.”
It was condemned for its “Eurocentric” views, for looking too much at the “what” and “when” instead of “why.”
Not surprisingly, sparks flew during many of the sessions.
Aboriginals, sovereignists clash
And because the conference was held in Quebec, sovereignists often clashed with natives as the report’s implications for Quebec secession surfaced.
Makivik President Zebedee Nungak was able to seize yet another opportunity to talk about Nunavik’s “intractable” determination to remain in Canada.
Nungak offered the audience a short history lesson, outlining the many changes of government that have affected Nunavik, changes over which Inuit have had little control.
He repeated his stance that Inuit in Nunavik will decide their own future.
“The powers that be are not taking into account what we think and where we want to be,” said Nungak.
While the Royal Commission report did not go into detail about the effect of Quebec sovereignty on native peoples, the conference did not succeed in bringing the diverse points of view together.
The Bloc Quebecois critic for Aboriginal affairs, Claude Bachand, repeated Quebec’s intent to keep its borders – and the territory of native peoples – intact, even if Quebec leaves Canada.
Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard has not yet responded officially to the Royal Commission report.
But many at the gathering expressed frustration about the kind of response that the report has generated in Canada.
A sour note
The conference’s final session about the lessons of the report for the future, ended on a sour note.
Speaker Andrew Coyne, a national newspaper columnist, condemned the report as a dangerous and expensive retreat back into traditional culture.
“You keep your taxes,” countered Ovide Mercredi, head of the Assembly of First Nations, “We want the land, the resources!”
Violence could result, suggested some, if action on at least some of the report’s recommendations is not taken.
The Nunavut formula, involving a joint land claim and political accord, received little attention during the conference.
NIC Chief Commissioner John Amagoalik and ICC President Rosemarie Kuptana were both listed as speakers at the opening and closing of the conference, but neither attended the sessions.