much more detail than I ever could. Link
The problems facing Canada's First Nations are many and longstanding. Some of these problems are structural. Band
leadership often has to deal with all the considerations of a province while dealing with federal red tape which renders
even capable ministers overwhelmed (and politics has shown us that our leaders can't always be capable administrators).
Having to seek permission from Ottawa for major projects further prevents effective leadership. Further, First Nations
have difficulty if the government at the federal level is hostile or simply ambivalent.
While letting my mind wander I happened to become curious how much reserve land there was in Canada. That, and
other questions led me to an idea that may well solve some of the more intractable problems facing First Nations. The reserves scattered across Canada should be reorganized into a new province.
First, the numbers...
Reserves in Canada cover 3,377,826 hectares, or 33,778.26 km2. By comparison Prince Edward Island is only 5,685.73 km2, These reserves have 360,620 residents. PEI has 140,204 residents (give or take Mike Duffy depending on the outcome of his trial). So from a purely size-based assessment such a province isn't unreasonable. Given how the court cases in British Columbia have been going it is likely the total size of reserves are going to increase before all is said and done. Economic numbers are hard to find for Canada's reserves but more on this as we go.
Advantages for First Nations...
The courts have repeatedly acknowledged that First Nations have a right to be consulted about how their land is used.
Some Natives have also insisted a place at the table during constitutional negotiations. The provinces are often unsure
how to approach dealing with First Nations as they are not a 'provincial issue'. Having provincial status solves these
problems. As a province they would a) be consulted about activities within provincial boundaries, b) need to be consulted about any potential constitutional changes, and c) finally have a clear relationship with the other provinces.
As a province they could reasonably expect their influence to grow in Parliament as they would gain seats in both the Senate and the Commons (Canada does not create ridings that cross provincial boundaries). But more than that the new province would be the only one with a realistic claim to having a national focus. The provinces have provincial attitudes in the worst sense of the word. This new province will be in a strong position to understand and mediate between regional and national concerns.
Currently, monetary transfers to reserves are the discretion of the federal government. In fact just today the claim was made that First Nations schools have become underfunded. The Equalization payments (which in all likelihood would replace current funding in the new First Nations province) are also done at the federal government's discretion. The difference is that if the federal government cuts Equalization payments the provinces raise hell. In short the funding is more secure for a province.
The First Nations could also finally make use of the economy of scale. All of the different band governments handling the same issues could be concentrated into one provincial government. This First Nations province would be in the enviable position of having more well-trained administrators than there would be positions to fill. The various reserve governments may shrink in importance but perhaps not to the level of being mere town councils. Indeed, there is an argument for having stronger municipal government for issues where it can do the most good.
Perhaps most importantly, Canada's First Nations would be in control of their own destiny. There would still be problems
to be solved but the solutions would for the first time be coming from First Nations themselves.
Advantages for the Federal Government...
The size of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs will be able to be greatly downsized and perhaps scrapped altogether.
A perennial and intractable portfolio will no longer get passed from government to government with marginal progress being made. It is possible that the Indian Act might (finally) be repealed.
Gaining a province inclined towards having a national point of view may give the federal government an important ally among the provinces.
Advantages for the Provinces...
For the same reason this new province would have greater influence with the federal government it would have greater pull with the provinces. The provincial premiers are not known for working together or having a particularly strong understanding of the struggles other provinces have to deal with. By necessity this new province would. It may well become the go-to mediator between provinces. And this would be advantageous to all the provinces.
A province made up of Canada's First Nations reserves would be the single biggest change in relations between Canada and its First Nations since the passing of the Indian Act. Accomplishing this change would be difficult. Canada very much has a status quo-enforcing constitution. Some among the First Nations, the provincial premiers, and federal MPs might have objections. But in my view this is the best way forward for everyone.