The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: who can speak on behalf of a nation?

Volume five of the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Renewal: A Twenty-Year Commitment, outlines a detailed approach on how best to implement the Commission’s recommendations. Implementation requires, in the authors’ words, “a rebalancing of political and economic power between Aboriginal nations and other Canadian governments.” (1) 

Volume five is relatively brief, but I can’t recommend it for the casual reader today. The high-level recommendations for implementation are covered in sufficient detail in the official summary of the final report published by the the commission and the detailed analysis the authors provide to support their recommendations is now fairly dated. 

Having said that, in my view, the authors nicely articulate at a high level what broadly needs to happen if political and economic power is going to be rebalanced. In doing so, they highlight a fundamental issue that will need to be resolved: with whom will the rebalancing take place?

They write (pg. 2-3):

• Aboriginal nations have to be reconstituted.

• A process must be established for the assumption of powers by Aboriginal nations.

• There must be a fundamental reallocation of lands and resources.

• Aboriginal people need education and crucial skills for governance and economic self-reliance.

• Economic development must be addressed if the poverty and despondency of lives defined by unemployment and welfare are to change.

The authors of the report are unequivocal on a key point: a band, which is a product of the Indian Act, only represents a small part of any given nation that is in need of reconstitution. When the authors talk of the need to reconstitute Indigenous nations they are thinking of political units which are much broader, both geographically and socially, than bands and their councils. By the author’s estimation, there are around 60 to 80 nations in the territories we now call Canada that need to be reconstituted, whereas the Federal government currently recognizes over 600 bands.

It’s also important to emphasize that the majority of Indigenous people don’t live on reserves, just over half aren’t registered by the Federal government (source), and many many people have been unjustly excluded from the opportunity to register or live on reserves. It may be convenient for the Federal government to negotiate with band councils and their representatives, but it seems entirely fair to say they do not represent or speak on behalf of the entire nation of which they are only one small part.  

And this raises an important question: who can speak on behalf of Indigenous nations in negotiation with governments? The authors are again unequivocal: Indigenous peoples are “entitled to identify their own national units for purposes of exercising the right of self-determination” (pg. 144). Unfortunately, this doesn’t answer the question so much as relocate it.

Indigenous nations have been fractured and splintered for generations and their political identities unduly influenced by the colonial state for just as long. The sense of “we” and “us” which is the foundation of a national identity was intentionally attacked by the colonial state and arguably continues to be subverted to this day, aided and abetted by some Indigenous people who benefit from the status quo. Yes, Indigenous peoples should determine their own national units, but the question of who belongs to which nation is not easily answered because the mutual recognition that is required to answer that question has been under attack for generations. 

Needless to say, in this fractured landscape, reconstituting a nation will be no easy task. Fortunately, it is not without precedent. Nations all over the world have been reconstituted successfully, especially in the period of decolonization following the Second World War. And while the process has not always been smooth, it is clear that a nation can be reconstituted with or without the support of the colonizing state. If Indigenous peoples want to reconstitute their nations, it can be done — with or without the support of Canada. The first step, I suspect, will be the development of an understanding of “we” and “us” other than the one created by the colonial state. 

Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: who is a nation?

Perspectives and Realities, the fourth volume of the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, covers a number of different topics. However, there is no unifying theme beyond the notion that the authors want to “give voice to the diversity of Aboriginal peoples and the diversity of the Aboriginal experience in Canada” (pg. 2). The fourth volume is like a collection of essay-length end notes that provide more context to topics that have been discussed in the previous volumes.

The topics covered in this fourth volume are: 

  • Women’s Perspectives
  • Elders’ Perspectives
  • Métis Perspectives
  • Northern Perspectives
  • Urban Perspectives

Of these, I found the section on Métis perspectives to be one of the most useful. It covers a lot of historical ground that was previously unknown to me. Additionally, because the authors discuss this history with an eye to making the case that the Métis should be considered Indians under section 91(24) of the Constitution, it also provides a lot of the background information I needed to better understand the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in 2016 that reached the same conclusion. 

Additionally, because the authors tackle the question of who can rightfully claim to be Métis, the section on Métis perspectives is also a useful starting point for anyone with Indigenous heritage who is trying to make sense of their identify and role in the territories we now call Canada. 

The authors write: 

Individual identity is a matter of personal choice. One can identify with any people or nation, whether or not there is an objective reason for doing so and whether or not that people or nation agrees. For acceptance of that identification, however, it is necessary to win the approval of the people or nation with which one identifies. It would be inappropriate for anyone outside that nation to intervene. Therefore, when a government wishes to know a nation’s membership for the purpose of engaging in nation-to-nation negotiations, it can legitimately consider only two criteria: self-identification and acceptance by the nation. […] [T]he composition of an Aboriginal nation should be the business of no one other than that nation and its members (pg. 189).

In other words, a person can identify with a particular Indigenous nation, if they want, but it is the nation itself that determines whether or not a particular person is a part of the nation. Needless to say, this should be obvious. If someone adopts an English accent, drinks a lot of tea, and wears a bowler hat, their feelings about their identity are irrelevant to whether or not they are a citizen of the United Kingdom. Only the legitimate political representatives of the United Kingdom have the right to determine if a person is a member of their nation. Easy peasy, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t so easy in the context of Canada’s colonialism. To understand why, it is also important to read the section focused on women’s perspectives.

To put it very briefly, the Canadian government has for a very long time treated women and their offspring differently than they treat men and their offspring when it comes to determining who is a “real Indian” according to the law it imposed on Indigenous nations to control and assimilate them. For a very long time, if a woman married a non-Indigenous man, she and her offspring ceased to be “real Indians” in the eyes of the law. She was forced to leave her community because the lands reserved for Indigenous peoples by the government can only be occupied by people deemed to be “real Indians” by the government. In contrast, if a man married a non-Indigenous woman, his status in the eyes of the government was unaffected, his wife and children, whatever their background, were judged to be “real Indians” and she and her children were entitled to stay in the community.

Unfortunately, this discriminatory and exclusionary practice shaped the identity of Indigenous communities, families and individuals for multiple generations. In this context, it becomes much more difficult to treat the endorsement of any particular community as the definitive measure of a person’s identify because many women and their children were forced from those communities against their will. To further complicate matters, because the colonial state also imposed governance structures on Indigenous peoples to suit its own needs, it is very reasonable to wonder if the people who occupy those governance structures today legitimately represent their nation. It is also reasonable to wonder if the specific parcels of land they manage on behalf of the government are the appropriate locus for the identity of the nation they claim to represent. Nevertheless, it also seems entirely reasonable for the tight-knit communities who live on those lands not to welcome into their communities people who are strangers and outsiders, especially when resources are scarce. 

So, on the one hand, it doesn’t seem fair to tell people they can’t identify with a particular Indigenous nation because they are estranged from it only because of the discrimination of the state and the complicity of some Indigenous communities. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem fair to ask Indigenous communities to accept strangers as one of their own or to take their views and/or needs into consideration simply because the latest colonial process has decided these strangers are now “real Indians” in the eyes of the government.  

Needless to say, it is a big, messy and complex problem which will likely only get messier and more complex in the next few years because the government has been forced by yet another court decision to allow even more people to register as “real Indians” because the government’s “solution” to the discrimination I described earlier was itself ruled to be discriminatory. If you want to understand why it was eventually ruled to be discriminatory, the section on women’s perspectives in Perspectives and Realities is a very good place to start.

Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: pragmatic optimism or hopeless naivety?

I don’t recall being particularly frustrated when I first read Gathering Strength, the third volume of the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. I was, however, very frustrated when I went over the notes I took while reading it. Writing these reflections helped me figure out the source of my frustration. 

It boils down to this: the very existence of the third volume seems to contradict the conclusion of the first two volumes, a conclusion which is succinctly expressed by the authors themselves on the second page of Gathering Strength. In short, given the very difficult situation that many Indigenous peoples now find themselves in, thanks to the actions of settlers and the settler state, the authors write,  

the solution is redistribution of power and resources so that Aboriginal people can pursue their social and economic goals and regain their health and equilibrium through means they choose freely. 

Exactly. Done and done. Say no more. Gathering Strength, which aims to “investigate social and cultural issues, and to propose solutions to problems that compromise the quality of life of Aboriginal people” (pg.1) should have ended then and there. There really is nothing more to discuss, analyze or write.

For example, after an extended and detailed discussion of how to better serve the health needs of Indigenous peoples, the authors write, 

Whole health, in the full sense of the term, does not depend primarily on the mode of operation of health and healing services — as important as they are. Whole health depends as much or more on the design of the political and economic systems that organize relations of power and productivity in Canadian society. For Aboriginal people, those systems have been working badly; before whole health can be achieved, they must begin to work well (pg. 289).

Exactly. And those systems have been working badly precisely because settlers continue to interfere with the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and continue to act as if settlers have a right to the land and wealth they stole.

In other words, from an ethical and legal perspective and from the perspective of the first two volumes of the report, the only path forward that will truly remediate the well being of Indigenous peoples is for settlers to stop interfering with the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and to cough up the trillions of dollars of wealth that was stolen from them. That’s it. No further analysis is required, especially when it is well understood that different nations and peoples will adopt very different approaches to address their own well being once they have the political and material means to do so. There is no “one-size fits all solution” to be found, nor should the authors even try to look for one.   

Anticipating this kind of objection, in the concluding pages of Gathering Strength, the authors write, 

Political change is essential to progress toward resolving social problems. However, progress should also be seen as an immediate priority and a powerful means of mobilizing the commitment of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to support fundamental structural change. We have set out proposals for movement on social concerns in order to break down the paralyzing sense that problems are so entrenched and pervasive that nothing can be done. We amplify the voice of Aboriginal people, particularly women, who urge their leaders and Canadian governments to recognize that social concerns deserve priority and to pursue action on social policy in concert with political change (pg. 624).

Essentially, the authors reconfirm their commitment to the notion that the only lasting solution to the social problems faced by Indigenous peoples will involve a significant redistribution of power and resources. They claim, however, that immediate steps can also be taken in the here and now to address those social problems while progress is being made towards the more lasting political solution. Moreover, they also claim that directly addressing the social problems in the here and now will help bring about a lasting political solution. For the authors, both goals — an immediate improvement in the well being of Indigenous peoples and a lasting political solution — can be pursued concurrently.  

On first impression, the proposed approach seems prudent and pragmatic. It’s as if the authors are saying, “let’s treat the symptoms while we work towards a cure for the disease; treating the symptoms will even help to cure the disease.” Unfortunately, that analogy doesn’t really align with the historical and present-day realities of colonialism, which is more like an abusive relationship than a disease. In terms of an analogy , the authors’ proposed approach is much more like, “let’s ask our abuser to help us heal, while we remain in an relationship which empowers them to continue to abuse us.” Clearly, that’s not going to work. 

Setting aside analogies, it’s important to emphasize that the settler state didn’t create and perpetuate social problems for Indigenous peoples because the state didn’t do a good job of interfering in the lives of Indigenous peoples. It is the interference itself that is the problem. There is no amount of well-intentioned consultation or redesigned funding mechanisms that will suddenly improve the situation or make bureaucrats less paternalistic. “Improved” interference in the lives of Indigenous peoples — if it is even possible — will not, in fact, improve the situation because it is the interference itself that is the problem.

Moreover, by attempting to address specific social problems within the confines of the existing relationship, there is an ever-present risk that the proposed solutions will perpetuate and entrench the very relationship that is the root cause of the social problems being addressed. Instead, the settler state should simply stop interfering with the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and immediately return the resources that have been stolen from them. Once settlers stop meddling in the communities of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous peoples have sufficient resources to advance their own aims, I’m willing to bet many Indigenous peoples will be happy to sort things out on their own, for better and for worse. For those peoples who want to exercise their sovereignty within Canada, they will be in a much better position to negotiate favorable terms.

With the benefit of hindsight and these remarks in mind, it is not surprising to me that the Federal government’s official response to the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples is called, Gathering Strength: Canada’s Aboriginal Action Plan, and not, say, Restructuring the Relationship: Canada’s Aboriginal Action Plan, because the notion of “gathering strength” is an excellent rhetorical device to justify not taking immediate action to redistribute power and resources.

Despite some high-flying rhetoric, the “action” plan  seems to commit the government to little more than recognizing, supporting, considering, planning and indefinitely preparing to renew a relationship that will likely never be renewed. The settler state, I’m willing to predict, will always be happy to commit to “renewing” the relationship and funding a few social programs which they ultimately control because it is a tried and true means to distracting everyone from the core concern: the redistribution of power and resources.

From this perspective, Gathering Strength, the third volume of the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, seems to play into the hands of the federal government. By devoting so much attention to here and now fixes that take the status quo as given, it seems to inadvertently help the federal government sidestep the report’s primary and powerful conclusion that a redistribution of power and resources is the only path forward.

Needless to say, the authors should not be blamed for the federal government’s inaction — that outcome was probably inevitable. I nevertheless wonder if the authors today might agree that the optimism they expressed in volume three wasn’t warranted, given the very long history of colonialism they documented in the first volume of their report. I also wonder, given what they know now, if they would omit Gathering Strength and simply replace it with the recommendation that the settler state should respect Indigenous sovereignty, return Indigenous lands and resources, and stop interfering with Indigenous communities because that is the right thing to do and the only lasting solution to the social problems Indigenous peoples continue to face today. 

Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: By What Right Does Canada Exercise its Sovereignty?

Restructuring the Relationship, the second volume of the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples is — to put it mildly — a beast. It’s a little over a thousand pages long and covers a lot of important ground, often in exacting and painstaking detail. However, as important as some of that ground may be, after reviewing my notes, I can’t recommend everyone read the whole volume. There is, nevertheless, one relatively brief section that would be well-worth everyone’s time. In fact, it’s essential reading. 

Important but not essential (for now) 

To understand why most of Restructuring the Relationship can be passed over by most readers, it’s probably best to start with the authors’ vision for the future, which they share in the closing pages of the volume.  

The authors write (pg. 983): 

Early in the next millennium, we see Aboriginal communities organized into nation governments, responsible for most aspects of their economic, social and legislative affairs. An expanded land base and the acquisition of management and professional skills will give them the possibility of a return to self-reliance for the first time in well over a century. We see Aboriginal governments raising more and more of their own revenues over time and being assisted — as other Canadian governments with lower than average resources are — through fiscal agreements.

The ambition of this vision is admirable but I honestly can’t decide if the proposed timeline is political gamesmanship or pure delusion. Keep in mind, the final report was released by the Commission in November of 1996, with the “next millennium” only three years away. Jean Chrétian, Pierre Trudeau’s point man on the infamous White Paper, was also Prime Minister at the time. I’ve never had the impression that Chrétian was a politician who was eager to use his political capital to advance the political and cultural interests of Indigenous Peoples. I’ve also read a few stories recently that suggest he might have been actively working against them. 

However, one thing is for certain: the authors of Restructuring the Relationship worked hard to ensure they wouldn’t be open to the charge that they hadn’t fully considered the practical implications of implementing their proposed vision for the future. They take deep and detailed dives into the ins and outs of self-government, the importance of a just and equitable allocation of lands and resources, and the kind of economic development that will be required if self-government is going to be meaningful for Indigenous Peoples.

Given the nature of the report, the authors were wise, I think, to get deep into the nitty gritty, but I also doubt anyone who doesn’t already share their vision for the future will be swayed by their attention to detail. If we ever do get to the point where Canada is ready to live up to the ideals that are expressed in the report’s vision for the future, this volume will be essential reading and a great starting point for thinking through the practical steps that will be required to approach something like meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Until then, most of the volume is a very detailed hypothetical that most readers can probably skip for the time being. 

Fifty pages of essential reading  

Having said that, for anyone interested in understanding Canada’s colonialism, I think the report’s discussion and analysis of the historical role and continued relevance of the treaties signed by Indigenous Peoples with Great Britain and Canada (pg. 9–46) is essential reading . Ultimately, the treaties are the point upon which everything else turns, up to and including whether or not Canada has the legal right to exercise sovereignty over the territories it now calls its own. In Restructuring the Relationship, the authors provide a pretty accessible overview of the main issues. Unfortunately, in my view, I don’t think the authors embrace the full implications of their own discussion and analysis.

Here is a significant quote (pg. 29–30):

This is one of the central issues raised by treaties. What if the two parties had completely different concepts of the agreement each believed had been reached? What if there never was agreement at all? The normal law of contracts specifies that a valid contract requires two elements: the first is the required formality, in the form of a seal or consideration passing between the parties (consideration meaning simply the exchange value). The second element is consensus ad idem. This means that the parties must actually have reached a meeting of the minds, that is, an agreement. [… ] If the Indian treaties were contracts, conventional legal analysis might indicate that many of them are void because of the absence of consensus ad idem. The law of contracts then suggests that the parties would return to their original positions, as if the contract had not been made. The problem is apparent. After 100 years of relying on a treaty that has been assumed to be about extinguishment, the parties cannot turn back the clock and begin again.

To which it might easily be asked: why not exactly? Unfortunately, it’s a question that the authors never really address.

Instead, they shift gears and focus on the fact that many Indigenous Peoples believe that Canada has a right to exercise some political authority over some of the territories it calls its own because, in their moral and legal traditions, the treaties they signed to share the land with the settlers are sacred and, no matter how many times Canadians violate the word and spirit of the treaties, they remain valid and in effect. And while this account of the perspective of some Indigenous Peoples is certainly true, it is not the perspective of all Indigenous Peoples, not all Indigenous Peoples have signed treaties, and it doesn’t actually address a very pertinent question: does Canada, by the standards of its own moral and legal traditions, actually have a right to exercise political authority over the territories it now calls its own? Based on my reading of the report’s analysis and discussion of the treaties, I think the answer is, “no.”  

Of course, you shouldn’t take my word for it. I haven’t shared anything in this post that could convince you one way or the other. Instead, my only hope is that I’ve provoked your interest in learning more about the treaties Great Britain and Canada signed with Indigenous Peoples and the history of how Canada came to claim sovereignty over the territories it now calls its own.

Consider this: when you buy a home you don’t take the owner at their word when they say they own it. You ask a lawyer to check the paperwork that documents the history that justifies and explains that claim to ownership. Isn’t it about time that you exercised the same diligence when it comes to Canada’s claims on the territories it calls its own? If you want to get started right now, the first 50 pages of Restructuring the Relationship is a good place to start. 

Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: Volume One Is Well Worth Your Time

I have finished reviewing and revising the notes I took while reading Looking Forward, Looking Back, volume one of the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

At this point, going by my memory of the other volumes, I would say Looking Forward, Looking Back is the only volume of the report you need to read to understand the intentions of the authors. If you are relatively new to Canada’s colonialism, its history, and the implications of that history for the present day, I think Looking Forward, Looking Back would also work as a compelling introduction. It covers a lot of ground in 695 pages.   

The volume begins by providing a very useful summary of the hundreds of years of history that proceeded the events that were the catalyst for the Royal Commission being called: the standoff at Kanesatake (Oka) in the summer of 1990 and the defeat of the Charlottetown Accord in a referendum in the fall of 1992. It then takes a deep dive into four of the more egregious policies developed and implemented by the Federal government in its bid to commit cultural genocide: the Indian Act, residential schools, forced relocations, and the treatment of Indigenous veterans following the wars.

It also provides a very useful introduction to the ways in which Indigenous peoples understand themselves to be culturally distinct from settlers, before introducing the report’s vision for a renewed relationship between Indigenous peoples and settlers. In effect, this volume contextualizes and articulates the report’s vision for reconciliation; the main purpose of the other volumes is to provide the (very many) details upon which that vision is based and, while those details would have been very important in their day, to help quell the objections of the naysayers to the report’s vision, I suspect, it’s the vision itself which has probably had the most lasting influence. 

In the authors own words (pg. 585), the vision is:

[R]oom must now be made in the Canadian legal and political framework for Aboriginal nations to resume their self-governing status. We see a time when three orders of government will be in place, with Aboriginal governments exercising sovereign powers in their own sphere. In contrast to recent policy, based on delegating municipal-style powers to Aboriginal people at the community level, the Commission believes that the right of Aboriginal self-government is inherent, that it cannot be delegated from someone else. It inheres in the peoples themselves and, in our view, is already recognized in the Canadian constitution. Moreover, it is through the nation — the traditional historical unit of self-governing power, recognized as such by imperial and later Canadian governments in the treaty making process — and through nation-to-nation relationships, that Aboriginal people must recover and express their personal and collective autonomy.

As I said previously, I’m not entirely convinced that all Indigenous peoples would accept a vision of reconciliation in which their sovereignty is exercised within Canada but, whether you agree with the report’s vision or not, after reading Looking Forward, Looking Back, I think you will fully understand the vision, why the authors of the report propose it, and be in a position to assess it for yourself. I’m not convinced you will need to read the rest of the report to make sense of the vision, but I have many more notes to get through before I can say that with complete conviction.

And with that end in mind, this week, I start working through my notes for volume 2, Restructuring the Relationship

If you’ve read the report or are familiar with it and want to share your thoughts, please leave a comment. If you prefer to do it privately, send me an email (sterling.lynch at

Recommendations for further readings are always welcome.

Two perspectives on reconciliation: together or apart

This weekend, I started going over the bits of text I had highlighted while reading the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples over the past few months.

I came across an observation that is made quite early in the report (pg. 41) which strikes me as significant, even if I don’t remember it leaving any particular impression when I first read it back in late October or early November.

The authors write:

[T]he two societies — Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal — were physically separated by a wide ocean. From an Aboriginal philosophical perspective, the separation between the two distinct worlds could also be expressed as having been established by the acts of creation. Accordingly, the Creator gave each people its distinct place and role to perform in the harmonious operation of nature and in a manner and under circumstances appropriate to each people.

This observation is significant, for me, because it highlights an Indigenous perspective which seems to be at odds with the principle conclusion of the report. Early on (pg. 17), the authors characterize their conclusion in this way:

“We maintain that Aboriginal nations have an inherent right to determine their own future within Canada and that the governments of Aboriginal nations should be recognized as a third order of government in the Canadian federation.”

For me, the report’s conclusion does not align with the philosophical perspective outlined in the first quote. From that perspective, it might be said that the Creator’s decision to put an ocean between our two peoples is a pretty good sign that we were never meant to be socially and politically integrated in anything like a political federation.

More to the point, there is considerable evidence that Indigenous peoples, from the very start of the relationship, wanted to remain socially and politically distinct. After all, cooperation and friendly relations do not necessarily require social and political integration.

So, right at the outset of reviewing my notes, I’m wondering if the report’s vision of reconciliation is the only path forward for Indigenous peoples and Canadians.

Off the top of my head, I can’t immediately recall if the report gives any serious consideration to the notion that Indigenous peoples might want to exercise their inherent right to determine their own future outside of Canada, but that is ultimately why I am reviewing my notes.

I also recognize that it may not have been feasible for a Royal Commission to seriously entertain the notion that Indigenous nations might prefer to exercise their sovereignty outside of Canada, but, for me, the philosophical perspective described in the first quote suggests that we should take this possibility seriously. I will be keeping it in mind as I work my way through the rest of my notes.

If you’ve read the report or are familiar with the report and want to share your thoughts, please leave a comment. If you prefer to do it privately, send me an email (sterling.lynch at

Recommendations for further readings are always welcome.

Rejoining our regularly-scheduled broadcast already in progress: the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

The timing was pretty close to perfect but not quite on beat.

I finished reading all five volumes of the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) on Dec. 30. Symbolically-speaking, I’m tempted to say it would have been better to finish reading the report on Dec. 31 or, perhaps, Jan. 1.

But, maybe I’ve got that wrong.

Finishing the report is neither an ending nor a beginning; it’s a rejoining our regularly-scheduled broadcast already in progress.


It was a few days before Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation when I made the decision to read RCAP’s report. I read an article in the Ottawa Citizen by Bruce Deachman, which was published in anticipation of the day. If you are new to Canada’s colonialism, it’s a good starting point. When you read it, you will notice that RCAP’s report, which was published in 1996, is featured prominently.

A few years ago, I started reading about the history and present-day reality of Canada’s colonialism. Along the way, I noticed how often the report is cited; my interest was piqued and I resolved to read it, but I never got around to it. Reading Deachman’s article reminded me of my resolution and, in reflecting on the thrust and spirit of his article, I decided I had better follow through on it.


RCAP’s report is monumental. Its vision, scope, and attention to detail are truly impressive. It’s also remarkably well-written. By any measure, it’s very readable; compared to a typical government report, it is Gladwell-esque. Having said that, it probably won’t be worth reading for everyone.

Right now, I’m in the process of reading the official summary of the report (a mere hundred pages or so), and I will let you know if it does justice to the full report. I suspect it will simply because the core ideas of the report are one hundred per cent relevant today, even if many of the nitty gritty details discussed in the report have become somewhat dated. Crucially, some key questions, like the legal status of non-status Indians and Métis, have been resolved.

I suspect I will have more to say about the report in the future. I may even try to put together a formal paper. But, before any of that, I will need to go over my notes and read what others have said about the report. In the meantime, I will leave you with this first impression:

A.N Whitehead once quipped that the western European philosophical tradition is essentially a series of footnotes to Plato. I suspect that it might be fair to characterize RCAP’s report in similar terms, when it comes to the decolonial tradition in Canada. Everything that has been written after RCAP’s report might easily be described as a footnote to it.