Creation of Ministry and Strategic Course of Action for reconciliation with Aboriginal people
Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, Government of Ontario

The Problem

The contributions of Canada’s Indigenous (Aboriginal) peoples to the country’s rich culture and history are well known worldwide. Yet by the 2000s the need for reconciliation between the Government of Ontario and its 300,000 Aboriginal citizens – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – was acute.

First there existed increasing recognition of an abysmal history of disenfranchisement and unjust treatment. This included a past countrywide system of “residential schools” that saw more than 150,000 Aboriginal children taken from their families to non-Aboriginal institutions that we now know included physical and sexual abuse. Though many communities have succeeded despite these challenges, the repercussions continue to haunt many others. In 2009, UNICEF Canada noted that Canada had recently ranked third of 177 countries in the world in the UN’s Human Development Index, while Canada’s First Nations would rank 68th. And according to the federal government’s Community Wellbeing Index, of the 'bottom 100' Canadian communities in 2006, 96 were First Nations.

Also contributing to increased awareness was a growing body of Canadian legal jurisprudence.

One way out of these conditions is reasonable compensation for development on traditional and treaty territory. In recent decades and particularly since 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada and lower courts have issued rulings identifying the need for governments and business to consult with Aboriginal peoples on matters that have the potential to impact treaty or Aboriginal rights.

In Canada, treaty and Aboriginal rights are protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Yet in practice, consultation of Aboriginal peoples by governments and industry has often fallen short. This shortfall has resulted in missed opportunities for socio-economic progress, and often, in protest.

The tipping point may have begun with a 1995 land dispute at Ipperwash Provincial Park. Dudley George, a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, was shot by police and died. Mr. George was the first Aboriginal person to be killed in a land rights dispute in Canada since the 19th century. His tragic death captured Canada’s attention.

In 2003, the Ontario government commissioned Justice Sidney Linden to lead a public inquiry into events at Ipperwash. The Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry released on May 31, 2007 provided 100 recommendations. Among them was the establishment of the province’s first-ever standalone Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.

Justice Linden stated that creating the ministry would “herald a commitment by the province to a new, constructive relationship with Aboriginal peoples.”

The challenge: creation of Ontario’s first Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs with a mandate to improve the plight of Aboriginal peoples, and then creative implementation of its inaugural mandate, including innovative initiatives to increase public awareness across the Ontario Public Service and to begin reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples in Ontario.

At the core of a democracy is the recognition of all citizens’ rights, particularly when those citizens are Aboriginal peoples. The challenge to Ontario’s Public Service to quickly improve on the province’s long-term record was both compelling and daunting.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
Ontario created its first-ever standalone Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs (MAA) in June 2007.

“We have to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of building trust and forging a more productive relationship with Aboriginal people,” said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty at the time, “because we know from the past that confrontation doesn't work.”

MAA works horizontally with all Ontario ministries to lead Ontario’s Aboriginal affairs strategy. The ministry was created to ensure that the priorities of Aboriginal communities are fully considered when government sets its priorities. It also supports the province’s relationships with the federal government and other provincial and territorial governments on Aboriginal matters.

The ministry's mandate requires it to:

• Promote collaboration and coordination across ministries on Aboriginal policy and programs;
• Set priorities for and track the progress of Ontario's Aboriginal agenda;
• Enhance government and public awareness of Aboriginal peoples, issues and practices for consulting and engaging with Aboriginal peoples;
• Work with the federal government to find ways to make the most of federal funding;
• Help Aboriginal peoples to access Ontario government programs, services and information;
• Advance the settlement of land claims and address historic grievances more quickly; and
• Encourage diversity, especially representation of Aboriginal peoples, in the Ontario Public Service.

Once established it was critical to create a simple guiding philosophy and road map for the new ministry’s work. In charting a new course for constructive, co-operative relationships with Aboriginal peoples, in May 2008 the newly founded ministry adopted a unique four-year, four-pillar Strategic Course of Action (SCOA) consisting of:

• Building stronger relationships between Ontario and Aboriginal partners;
• Improving social conditions and quality of life for Aboriginal peoples (desired outcomes include positive social and well-being change, especially for youth, both on and off reserves);
• Assisting in creating economic opportunity and sustainability (increased business partnerships, economic development opportunities and increased employment); and
• Resolving land claims issues and restoring reconciliation (expediting settlement of claims and enhancing public awareness and addressing prejudice to build support for the settlement of claims and issues).

While other provincial ministries have responsibility for delivery of most programs and services designed specifically to improve such things as health, education and socio-economic conditions, MAA has a mandate to work with them horizontally to coordinate policy and program initiatives designed to deliver on these key priorities.

Particularly unique to this approach is the emphasis placed upon the first of the SCOA’s pillars – building stronger relationships – with Aboriginal peoples and the general public and also through profound cultural change within the Ontario Public Service. This goal and the considerable ministry resources allocated to it informs and underpins all of MAA’s successes to date for Aboriginal Ontarians, and therefore for all Ontarians. (Quantitative and qualitative benefits are outlined in Section 4.)

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The direct catalyst for creation of Ontario’s first Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs was a recommendation in Justice Sidney Linden’s Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry released on May 31, 2007. The immediate response took place at the highest level of the provincial government when on June 21, 2007, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced the establishment of the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs with a mandate to fundamentally change government’s relationship with Aboriginal peoples in the province.

The ministry’s four-year Strategic Course of Action (SCOA) was developed primarily by MAA’s senior management team and policy staff in consultation with other provincial ministries. It must be stressed that the complexity and ambition of the initiative meant success depended on the efforts and will to change of the whole of the Ontario Public Service.

Stakeholders directly benefiting from the creation of MAA, the SCOA and the ministry’s initiatives include Métis, Inuit and First Nation members living in all corners of the province. Indirectly, all 13 million residents of the province will enjoy a stronger Ontario.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
Key initiatives under the Strategic Course of Action follow. The objectives are greater stakeholder engagement and ultimately socio-economic progress and reconciliation.

Pillar 1: Building Stronger Relationships

• A relationship table with First Nations and provincial ministries, led by MAA, meets regularly to address Ipperwash Report recommendations.

• Led by MAA, the government reached relationship agreements with three of four First Nation Provincial Territorial Organizations and with the Métis Nation of Ontario — all firsts.

• MAA organizes annual meetings between Aboriginal leaders and Ontario’s Premier, and in 2010, an opportunity for First Nation chiefs to meet individually with any of 16 cabinet ministers.

• MAA’s six-year, $85-million New Relationship Fund helps Aboriginal communities and organizations engage government and the private sector.

• MAA is effecting transformative cultural change among ministries. Initiatives include in-person and webcast Aboriginal awareness and consultation training for more than 3,500 public servants and municipal and industry representatives.

• MAA helped ensure section 35 of the Constitution was referenced in provincial legislation for the first time.

Pillar 2: Improved Social Conditions

• In 2008 MAA helped Ontario reach a $3-billion, 25-year Gaming Agreement with First Nations, allowing investments in education, health, and economic and cultural development.

• In 2009 MAA helped Ontario adopt “Jordan’s Principle,” a child-first policy in the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

• MAA led preparations for a 2010 motion in the Ontario Legislature asking Canada to reconsider its position on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

• In 2010, the UN’s International Year of Youth, MAA approached ministries, Aboriginal partners, corporations and governments to introduce Right To Play and One Laptop Per Child programs specially tailored to Ontario First Nations. Over 90% of caregivers with youth in the pilot Right To Play programming reported a positive learning experience.

Pillar 3: Economic Opportunity and Sustainability

• In 2009, Ontario’s first comprehensive, multi-ministry framework for Aboriginal economic development was approved. Initiatives are in the areas of Business Development, Human Capital, Outreach and Information, and Partnership and Relationship Building. For this an MAA staff member earned Ontario’s highest award for public servants.

• MAA is leading discussions with First Nations and Métis on sharing provincial resource revenues. It would be the first such agreement by any Canadian province.

Pillar 4: Land Claims and Reconciliation

• MAA is ahead of schedule on an ambitious 2008 goal to clear a backlog of claims in research and assessment by March 2011.

• MAA has settled seven land claims. In 2009 it reached a Framework For Negotiations Agreement with the Algonquins of Ontario and Canada on the last treaty required in Ontario.

• MAA’s map-based Aboriginal Consultation Information System provides public servants with treaty, land claim and other information. A public version is in development.

• MAA communicated progress to Ontarians through events and publications – jointly with stakeholders when possible – and its website
( ). An awareness campaign based on polling of Ontarians’ knowledge is being developed.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
1995 Death of protester Dudley George during occupation of
Ipperwash Provincial Park
1995-2003 Public and First Nations call for an inquiry into the death of Dudley George
2003 Government of Ontario, led by Premier Dalton McGuinty, announces a public inquiry into the 1995 events at Ipperwash Provincial Park
2004 Ipperwash Inquiry hearings begin. Evidence is gathered through to 2006 and the inquiry hears from more than 100 witnesses
2007 Relationship Agreement between Ontario and Nishnawbe-Aski Nation
2007 The final report of the Ipperwash Inquiry is released on May 31, 2007. It includes various recommendations aimed at avoiding violence in similar circumstances; improving relationships between Aboriginal communities, the Ontario government and police; and improving quality of life for Aboriginal peoples in Ontario
2007 The Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs is created on June 21, 2007. It replaces the Ontario Secretariat of Aboriginal Affairs housed within another ministry; a full-time minister is named and it has its own deputy minister and dedicated resources
2008 Unique four-year, four-pillar Strategic Course of Action (SCOA) approved developed by the new Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs
2008- Implementation of the SCOA. Highlights:
2008 – Gaming Revenue Sharing and Financial Agreement
2008 – MAA sets aggressive land claim goal (currently ahead of schedule)
2008 - Relationship Agreement between Ontario and the Anishnawbek Nation
2008 - Relationship Agreement between Ontario and Métis Nation of Ontario
2008 – Launch of the $85-million New Relationship Fund
2009 – Relationship Agreement Ontario and Grand Council Treaty #3
2009 – Aboriginal Economic Development Framework
2009 – Ontario officially adopts “Jordan’s Principle”
2009 – Framework For Negotiations Agreement on last treaty required in Ontario
2010 – Ontario proclaims 2010 Year of the Métis
2010 – First-ever joint Ontario First Nations Economic Forum
2010 – Ontario calls on Canada to reconsider position on UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
2010 – First annual First Nation Chiefs/Cabinet Ministers meeting
2010 – Launch of Aboriginal youth programs with Right To Play and One Laptop Per Child
2010-2011 – Focused Resource Revenue Sharing discussions

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Strained relations between Aboriginal peoples and the provincial government cannot be improved overnight. Efforts to build stronger, more constructive and co-operative relationships will take time and commitment.

The main obstacles to improving the relationship included finite financial and human resources, the need for greater awareness of Aboriginal issues within the Ontario Public Service and among the general public, and scepticism among Aboriginal partners.

Within government, there is a recognition that it is no longer acceptable to simply wait for Aboriginal leaders, organizations and communities to come forward with their issues and concerns. As part of its new approach, the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs embarked on a proactive course of fundamental cultural change within the public service, including recognition that Aboriginal issues must inform policy development throughout government. Key to ensuring this recognition government-wide has been the efforts of MAA, with its Aboriginal partners, to educate the public service through in-person and web-based training and tools for both staff and executive, as detailed in the previous section.

A dedication to consultation through the establishment of the various relationship tables and other initiatives has begun to strengthen relationships. While a long history cannot be easily overcome, the government’s relationships are increasingly based on mutual respect, dignity, and meaningful participation in decision making that affects Aboriginal peoples and communities, allowing many of the achievements outlined in this nomination.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
Prior to 2007, the corporate lead on Aboriginal affairs within the Ontario Government was the Ontario Secretariat for Aboriginal Affairs (OSAA). The secretariat’s Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs served a dual role as Deputy Minister of Natural Resources. The secretariat had an operating budget of $20.6 million and fewer than 65 staff members spread out in small offices throughout the Toronto area.

OSAA’s staff provided the core human resources for the larger ministry. Additional staff were added through competitive processes within and outside of the Ontario Public Service (OPS). Diversity was and remains a key principle of recruitment throughout the OPS, and this includes an appreciation for the knowledge and insight that Aboriginal employees can offer the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs (the ministry continues to encourage Aboriginal people to consider employment in the OPS through career fairs and other methods).

Today, MAA has its own deputy minister and a staff of more than 150, most of whom are located in one central office. They work on fostering relationships, resolving land claims and developing and delivering a wide range of policies and programs. The ministry has an operating budget of approximately $72.8 million in 2010-2011 and the Ontario government as a whole annually spends about $600 million on programs and services to improve the lives of Aboriginal peoples in Ontario.

Developing partnerships with the private sector, not-for-profit organizations and other levels of government has helped leverage significant resources for MAA-led social programs.

Most critically, the success of better engaging Aboriginal Ontarians has been contingent on ministry staff working horizontally and creatively to leverage the knowledge and resources of the many other provincial ministries with responsibilities that touch the lives of Aboriginal peoples, and to advise on those ministries’ policies and programs.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
The government is committed to ongoing consultation with First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Ontario on matters that affect them and issues that are important to them. It is committed also to the cultural change underway throughout the entire Ontario Public Service.

An emphasis on building relationships with Aboriginal partners is embedded within the organizational structure of the ministry itself. The knowledge and tools to enhance Aboriginal stakeholder participation have already been transferred to other Ontario ministries – the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs has trained approximately 3,500 public servants in more than 20 ministries. This important cultural change is developing a sustainable momentum of its own as those public servants transfer their training and MAA-supplied tools to others.

Ontario’s approach is transferable to other provinces and territories within Canada as these jurisdictions share many of the same challenges, similar government structures, and much the same jurisprudence. It is almost certainly transferable to jurisdictions beyond Canada’s borders that wish to make progress reconciling with their Indigenous citizens. And transferability is enhanced because the success of the initiative is rooted more in leveraging existing resources through horizontal coordination, creative partnering and relationship-building than it is in costly new programs. MAA would certainly offer any advice and information that might be required.

In addition to providing guidance to the Ontario government on Aboriginal issues, the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs is already demonstrating leadership at a national level. The national Aboriginal Affairs Working Group includes provincial and territorial ministers responsible for Aboriginal affairs and leaders of the five national Aboriginal organizations. The Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs was a leader in its creation and Ontario has chaired the working group since October 2009. Together, the members of the working group are moving forward on a plan to address the unique challenges and opportunities of First Nation, Inuit and Métis people across Canada in the areas of education, economic development and violence against Aboriginal women and children.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
As a result of the creation of the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, the Strategic Course of Action, and the ministry’s specific initiatives promoting reconciliation, the relationship between the government and Aboriginal peoples in Ontario has fundamentally changed — for the better. Ontario has set a new course for constructive, co-operative relationships with Aboriginal peoples based on mutual respect, dignity and shared decision-making and policy development.

In building a stronger partnership between the provincial government and Aboriginal peoples and increased participation by Aboriginal leaders and organizations in the design and delivery of policies and programs, the following elements have been critical:

• a ministry-wide commitment to genuine dialogue with Aboriginal leaders, organizations and communities to better understand their perspectives and priorities;
• an emphasis on initiatives that enhance this improved engagement as an enabler for all the ministry’s work;
• creative partnership-building with the private sector, not-for-profit organizations and other levels of government; and
• efforts to improve awareness and enhance coordination of services to Aboriginal peoples across the entire Ontario government.

Much work remains to be done, but the progress over the past three and a half years is undeniable. For instance, prior to the creation of the province’s first Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and the Strategic Course of Action that guides it, no formal relationship had ever existed between the province and the Métis Nation of Ontario. Such a relationship was agreed upon in November 2008.

And in May 2009, provincial officials joined the leadership and community members of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation at Ipperwash Provincial Park on the shores of Lake Huron, the scene of the tragic 1995 death that sparked the Ipperwash Inquiry. Following a traditional sunrise ceremony, as recommended in the Inquiry recommendations, Ontario signed an agreement to transfer Ipperwash Park to the First Nation. It was an important and symbolic step on the long road to the government’s reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples across the province.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, Government of Ontario
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Greg Coleman
Title:   Communications Director  
Telephone/ Fax:   416-314-5383
Institution's / Project's Website:   416-314-5383
Address:   160 Bloor St. E., Suite 400
Postal Code:   M7A2E6
City:   Toronto
State/Province:   Ontario
Country:   Canada

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