Indigenous Affairs is no more — departmental split is underway, Liberal government says

‘We are tearing down the outdated and paternalistic structure of old,’ Carolyn Bennett says

By John Paul Tasker,

The Liberal government’s promised move to dissolve Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development (INAC) and replace it with separate departments reached a milestone Monday with the creation of two new ministries.

The Department of Indigenous Services (DISC), with Toronto-area minister Jane Philpott at the helm, will now oversee government programs mainly geared toward status Indians, including welfare, education, infrastructure — including the move to end long-term water advisories — housing and the non-insured health benefits program. The First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) has also been formally transferred from Health Canada to the new department, the government said in a news release.

“These structural changes will allow our government to work more effectively with Indigenous partners to provide services that improve people’s day-to-day quality of life,” Philpott said.

By bureaucratic standards, the creation of DISC has happened relatively quickly, as the announcement to dissolve INAC was only made in August. More than 4,500 employees scattered across the country will find themselves working for either the new department, or INAC’s other successor, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, which will be led by minister Carolyn Bennett.

Bennett is tasked with settling outstanding comprehensive land claims (there are nearly 100 such deals in the pipe with various degrees of completeness), clearing a backlog of grievances at the Specific Claims Tribunal and generally fostering a new era of self-governance. She recently negotiated a landmark deal on education with the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario, a devolution the government hopes to replicate in other jurisdictions.

Bennett will lead the government’s continued push to dismantle the Indian Act, helping more communities opt out of provisions that date back to the 19th century.

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