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IS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DIVIDING ABORIGINAL PEOPLE? CAN IT STOP?

I'll be at the Canadian Political Science Association conference in Ottawa next week delivering a paper originally entitled "Building cohesion, aggravating division", with an even more obscure, academic-sounding subtitle. But I've changed the title and the new one is the one I'm using for this blog entry. My article grows out of studies I did recently in Winnipeg of aboriginal policy and policy regarding immigration and settlement. Originally, these studies had nothing to do with each other, but when they were finished, I was struck by the contrast between them.

I found that immigration and settlement, which is a responsibility of the Manitoba government, was intelligently administered and scored some notable successes, mainly thanks to the provincial government's close consultation with community groups that provided settlement services, and productive working relationships with them. Not so with aboriginal community groups.

It is the federal government that bears primary responsibility for aboriginal policy, and it spent a considerable amount of money on aboriginal programs in Winnipeg, but instead of consulting with the leaders of aboriginal groups on the shape of that policy, it set program conditions and then let community groups apply for funding. As a result, aboriginal community groups, already deeply divided, competed with each other for money.

That was bound to deepen the divisions among them. In the meantime, instead of being able to work with the government in shaping policy objectives - as the settlement service provider groups did - aboriginal organizations were forced to shape their own objectives in such a way as to meet federal government program conditions.

The result: A patchwork of fragmented programs instead of a co-ordinated approach to the big issues, and a great deal of resentment among the aboriginal leadership about the federal government's failure to consult meaningfully. In my paper, I suggest how the federal government might take a leaf out of the Manitoba government's book and change its approach.

If you'd like to take a look at my paper, click here. It's a work in progress, and I'm looking for feedback, so please feel free to comment.

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For a more detailed account of the immigration and settlement program affecting Winnipeg, see Christopher Leo and Martine August, “The Multi-Level Governance of Immigration and Settlement: Making Deep Federalism Work.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 42 (2), 2009.

A comparative look federal government policies in Winnipeg (including aboriginal policy, immigration and settlement, federal lands and emergency planning) will be published as part of a volume funded by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada project on Multilevel Governance and Public Policy in Canadian Municipalities.

ResearchBlogging.org
See also:

Christopher Leo (2006). Deep Federalism: Respecting Community Difference in National Policy. Canadian Journal of Political Science 39:3, 2006, 481-506., 39 (3), 481-506