Opinion: Building a new Aboriginal opportunities agenda
- Ken Coates and Sean Speer | March 23, 2016
The path to reconciliation for Aboriginal Canadians does not meander through the corridors of a government office in Ottawa.
If there is to be progress for Aboriginal Canada, it must be from a bottom-up, Indigenous-led process of economic development and self-sufficiency. Government has an enabling role to play but experience shows us that top-down, Ottawa-centric solutions are not the right path forward.
That's the message from Senior Fellows Ken Coates and Sean Speer who, in a new commentary for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, forge a path forward for Indigenous communities – one that avoids the mistakes of the past.
"Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to improving economic and social conditions for Canada’s Indigenous people is no doubt sincere. He has frequently talked, for instance, about harnessing economic opportunity to produce “the shared future prosperity we all deserve” (Trudeau 2015). It is a positive sign as the government finalizes its first budget and seeks to develop its broader policy agenda on Indigenous-related issues," they write.
"This is the most important public policy question facing the country. It is a national tragedy that Indigenous people experience much poorer economic and social outcomes, have lower life expectancies, and higher incarceration rates than the rest of the population. We must focus on “closing the gap”, as Assembly of First Nations chief Perry Bellegarde has described this sad state of affairs (Assembly of First Nations 2016). The goal should be to replace these “conditions of disadvantage” with a new opportunities agenda."
"What does such an agenda look like?" ask Coates and Speer. "It must recognize that the solutions lie in less government rather than more – indeed, an enumeration of the roots of current Indigenous despair shows that government intervention is the major source of the economic and social woes. Legitimate complaints about the Indian Act and assimilation efforts evidenced by the residential schools policy remind us that government has historically been a lead agent of oppression, financial hardship, and cultural containment. It is more than passing strange that those who seek to rectify serious historical challenges believe that more top-down, government solutions are the answer. Real reconciliation cannot be managed out of Ottawa. It must be a bottom-up, Indigenous-led process of economic development and self-sufficiency.
"This is not to say though that government has no role. As we set out in this essay, there are steps that the government should take – such as financing basic infrastructure and services, investing in early childhood care and learning, and bolstering Indigenous families – as part of a positive, forward-looking policy agenda. We must not forget the historical injustices perpetrated against Canada’s Indigenous people. But we cannot let a preoccupation with the past cause us to repeat the same mistakes. We can only begin to atone for the past by securing the future."