Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (formerly Indigenous/Indian and Northern Affairs Canada or INAC) was created by the federal government in 2017 to oversee matters pertaining to Indigenous-government affairs, such as treaties and Indigenous rights. The department is tasked with accelerating progress towards self-government and working in cooperation with Indigenous peoples to achieve desired ends. The department also manages the Northern affairs portfolio, which concerns the needs of communities living in Northern Canada. The department has two ministers: a minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and a minister of Northern Affairs.
Creation of the Department
In 2017, the government of Justin Trudeau implemented a recommendation of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) by dissolving Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and replacing it with two new departments: Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. (See also Federal Departments of Indian and Northern Affairs.)
Indigenous Services works toward improving the quality of services delivered to Indigenous peoples, with the eventual goal of having these services delivered by Indigenous communities rather than the Crown. Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada oversees Indigenous-government relations, including matters pertaining to treaty rights and self-government.
The department also manages the Northern affairs portfolio, which concerns the needs of communities living in Northern Canada. In July 2018, Northern affairs became part of the Department of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade Canada. The following year, Northern affairs reverted to Crown-Indigenous Relations. The department now has two ministers: a minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and a minister of Northern Affairs.
Carolyn Bennett, the first minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, described INAC as “outdated and paternalistic... designed to enforce the Indian Act.” The new departments, on the other hand, are “distinctions-based and rooted in the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.” The federal government described the restructuring of this department as a “next step” to abolishing the Indian Act.
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs builds on the work of INAC by advancing federal-First Nations relations, Inuit-Crown relations and federal-Métis government relations, as a means of supporting self-determination and matters similarly relating to Indigenous peoples in Canada, such as land claims and reconciliation. (See also Truth and Reconciliation Commission.)
The department is also tasked with leading the federal government’s work in the North. This includes working with territorial governments and other leaders to develop policies for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples living in northern communities, concerning matters such as oil and gas (see also Pipelines in Canada), land and resources (see also Natural Resources and Mineral Resources), the environment and health.
Select Priorities and Developments
The department has outlined various priority areas since its creation, including improving relationships with Indigenous peoples, encouraging self-government and supporting progressive policies in the North.
It has committed to finding new ways to working with Indigenous peoples on the path toward reconciliation. The federal government has established “permanent bilateral mechanisms” with Indigenous leaders to “identify joint priorities, co-develop policy and monitor progress.”
The Northern affairs portfolio has its own set of priorities, including a shared Arctic leadership model, climate change adaption programs, improvements to Nutrition North Canada, and devolution in Nunavut. In association with various partners, the federal government has developed a framework “to empower people and communities to work together for a vibrant, prosperous and sustainable region.”