So Indian Affairs is no more in Ottawa. Instead, the Prime Minister’s Office, affectionately known in government circles as the PMO, blindsided bureaucrats by changing the name of the ministry without consultation or notice. There’s a shock.
On May 18, while introducing the Conservative majority government’s new Cabinet, MP John Duncan was named minister of Aboriginal Affairs. The employees of the department of Indian and Northern Affairs had to learn about the name change via television. Nice.
And “Indian” people too were hearing about the change for the first time that day, and believe us when we say it started a lot of speculation about the signal the Prime Minister was sending about the priority of First Nations issues in the country.
Now, before readers start rolling their eyes and quoting Shakespeare—“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”—there is something going on here. It’s this blurring of the lines, this homogenization of the distinct groups of people that section 35 of the Canadian Constitution sets out legally as Indian, Métis and Inuit, that we are concerned about, so one is wise to question the motivation here.
Government explains the name change away as simply a modernization of a title that will be more inclusive. But forgive us for believing that if it were only a simple change meaning nothing more than Minister Duncan won’t have to tell people he’s the interlocutor for Métis and Non-status Indians anymore then the people to which the department is responsible would have been given a head’s up.
But, perhaps more importantly, it’s just a common courtesy. Why not just share with us, Stephen? Is that too much to ask?
The move talks more to the arrogance of this government, whether in a minority situation, or majority, and tells us that the Harper government is not interested in including First Nations in government decision-making at all, not even the slightest bit.
National Chief Shawn Atleo says he’ll be looking for “clarity” on the name change, but he must be getting sick and tired of being left out of the loop. He is quoted as saying, “We will work together to ensure the constitutionally-protected rights of First Nations are respected, the responsibilities to First Nations are upheld, and our interests receive specific attention and action.”
Well, if you can’t even get a phone call about a name change, what are the chances of that?