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Monday, December 17, 2018
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Rethinking the Jurisdictional Divide: The Marginalization of Urban Aboriginal Communities and Federal Policy Responses

The alarming socio-economic conditions of Regina’s Aboriginal community demonstrate that past policies and programs for urban Aboriginal peoples have not met with real success. The urban Aboriginal population has grown by 50% in the last half century. The federal government’s focus, however, in both spending and policy development has remained on on-reserve populations, even though the federal government’s inability to address poor housing, education and economic opportunities on reserves has been a cause of the urbanization trend. The ability to be flexible and respond to changing circumstances in other policy fields in the federation is not present in the federal government’s treatment of the urban Aboriginal population’s issues. Despite internal criticism and repeated public commitments to address marginalization in urban Aboriginal communities, the federal government has not previously taken serious steps in this direction. The federal Urban Aboriginal Strategy (UAS) may represent the first such serious step.

Planning well is the first challenge in making the UAS meaningful. At least some provinces have already developed strategic plans to address the socio-economic disparity between off-reserve Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Thus, a golden opportunity would seem to exist for the federal government to fulfil its commitment to get beyond jurisdictional wrangling with provinces by engaging them in a joint strategic planning exercise. It is also essential that Aboriginal peoples themselves are made partners in the planning exercise. Developing a strategy such as the UAS also requires governments to coordinate their activities internally. A further challenge in making the UAS effective will be in securing sufficient funding to make the shared objectives achievable.

Only time will tell whether the UAS represents the initiation of a new era in federal-provincial-Aboriginal cooperation that can effectively respond to the socio-economic disadvantages of Aboriginal peoples, or whether it is the continuation of a tradition of unilateral federal half-measures. The very existence of the UAS is at least some sign of federal engagement. It can be hoped that, through planning and adequate funding, governments will realize its promise.


Janice Stokes, Ian Peach and Raymond B. Blake

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