A Saskatchewan academic says all is not lost and there are a few things the Harper government could to do to improve its increasingly rocky relationship with First Nations groups in Canada.
Over the past year, the federal government’s relationship with Indigenous leaders has soured as a result of the controversial Bill C-45, its refusal to release all documents relating to Indian residential schools and, more recently, information brought to light that residential school students were used in unethical testing.
Nevertheless, Ken Coates, who teaches at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan, says by responding to calls from across the nation and launching a serious investigation into the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and providing more personal contact and follow up with the Assembly of First Nations, the government could get this relationship back on the right track.
“First Nations people are looking for signs of listening,” he says. “I don’t think First Nations leaders doubt the general sincerity of the government, I think they know the politicians want to have change and they want to see improvements, all that kind of stuff. So, I don’t think it is something as fundamental as that.”
Coates adds the Harper government could also improve this relationship by being more proactive in the releasing of documents that relate to residential schools.
He says the government’s tendency to refer these matters to the courts is both costly and unnecessary.
Coates says the government needs to recognize these documents contain public information which all Canadians should have access to and there are easier and less costly ways to disseminate them while still protecting privacy.
He also says another apology, similar to the on the Harper government made to residential school survivors in 2008, is unnecessary and what is really needed right now is for the government to move swiftly on some outstanding issues.