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The Royal Commission Report: Nine Steps to Rebuild Aboriginal Economies

Fred Wien, Maritime School of Social Work, Dalhousie University

Cando-Royal Bank Symposium on the Economic Development Recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Toronto, Ontario, October 23, 1997

1. Introduction

2. A Word on Policy Choices

3. The Diversity of Contemporary Aboriginal Economies

3.1. The Territorial North
3.2. The Provincial North
3.3. Southern Rural
3.4. Urban

4. Some Preconditions for Aboriginal Economic Development

5. Nine Steps to Rebuild Aboriginal Economies

5.1. Regaining Control
5.2. Rebuilding Aboriginal Nations
5.3. Building Institutional Capacity
5.4. Expanding Lands and Resources
5.5. Recognizing Aboriginal and Treaty Rights
5.6. Building Aboriginal Businesses
5.7. Supporting Traditional Economies
5.8. Overcoming Barriers to Employment
5.9. New Approaches to Income Support

6. Conclusion: The Cost of Doing Nothing

1. Introduction

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples tabled its final report in November last year. With this step, the seven Commissioners and their staff concluded five years of work, including three rounds of public hearings in over 100 communities, receiving the advice of 140 intervenor organizations and individuals, and integrating the results of some 340 research reports.

The extent of this inquiry into the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada is without parallel, driven by a very broad mandate recommended by the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Brian Dickson, and accepted by the Government of Canada. The breadth of the mandate, which covered 16 major areas, made this one of the most far-reaching commissions in Canada's history. It also contributed to a major strength in the Commission's report, for it was required to deal with the whole of the picture and the interrelationship of the parts, in a manner that is congruent with the more holistic perspective of Aboriginal peoples. It should not be surprising, therefore, that the Commission's perspective on economic matters goes well beyond the narrow, technical aspects of business development or the intricacies of providing income support. It is a perspective that begins with the history of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, and one that takes continuing cultural difference into account. It is also one that charts the interrelationship between the economic realm and other important dimensions of life.

This paper has three objectives:

  • to give a brief description of different types of Aboriginal economies, so that the diversity and complexity of the task of achieving economic development is better understood
  • to discuss some of the pre-conditions for rebuilding Aboriginal economies. What factors need to come together for economic development to have a good chance of success?
  • to give an overview of the perspective and recommendations put forward by the Royal Commission in its final report on the concrete steps that need to be taken to rebuild Aboriginal economies

2. A Word on Policy Choices

The history of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada is full of misguided policy choices. On the Aboriginal side, Aboriginal people like to joke that their most basic policy failure was to adopt an immigration policy that was much too liberal in permitting Europeans to enter North America, with disastrous consequences. On the non-Aboriginal side, Volume 1 of the Royal Commission report documents many examples of what those of us who worked for the Commission called "bad policies". These included the Indian Act, residential schools, the relocation of Aboriginal communities, and policies toward Aboriginal veterans.

If we were to add to this list, a prime candidate would be the policy choices that contributed to the undermining of Aboriginal economies in the past two centuries, and the response to that situation primarily in terms of the creation of welfare economies. A brief historical digression clarifies this argument.

The first paper in this volume has made the point that Aboriginal nations were relegated to a marginal status once the fur trade declined and their role as military allies receded. A period of assimilation and displacement ensued, during which Aboriginal societies suffered an almost complete erosion of their land and resource base which in turn undermined much of their traditional economy. Widespread poverty and even starvation ensued.

In Nova Scotia, for example, it is estimated that the Mi'kmaq population declined from an estimated 26,000 persons in the year 1600 to only 1300 persons at the low point in 1840. The extent of disruption of the Mi'kmaq economy was so severe that starvation is judged to have been the principal cause of population decline, a more important factor than the effect of European diseases. Signs of indigence and petitions for relief made their appearance by 1767, but the response of colonial authorities was quite limited:

"In 1768, Britain turned over responsibility for local affairs to authorities based in Nova Scotia but provided few resources for the implementation of policies. With respect to Indian affairs, little attention was given to the problem in the late 1700's and early 1800's, except when a military threat loomed and it was feared that the Micmac might again become a factor as allies of the opposing side. At such times, a report on the condition and disposition of the Micmac was sought, and impetus was provided for the provision of relief supplies. Such supplies were regarded by the authorities more as charitable donations than as the fulfilment of obligations resulting from past agreements ....... and they took the form of blankets, potatoes, meal, fish or bread. While the relief allocations were sporadic at first and always very limited in terms of the total annual amount provided (ranging in cost from 25 to 300 pounds for the whole province), the destitution of the Micmac necessitated regular annual grants from 1827 onward. As starvation and disease took their toll, an increasing proportion of the total funds granted were used to pay the medical bills submitted by non-Indian doctors."

In the later 1800's and early 1900's, the Mi'kmaq slowly regained their economic footing. While remaining poor, they were able to establish a reasonable degree of self-reliance through their own self-employment and by working as wage labourers on the fringes of the non-Indian economy. But the signs that this trend was not to continue were first seen in the depressions of the 1920's and 1930's when the Mi'kmaq began to lose their marginal foothold in the economy. Up until this time, welfare and other forms of relief payments had still not become widely available and were restricted largely to the aged and the infirm. As Chart 1 indicates, however, the level of outlay of welfare and related expenses began to rise more sharply in the 1920's and took an exceptional jump at the onset of the Great Depression. What had changed was not only the worsening of economic conditions, but also the fact that the federal government was prepared to alleviate hardship through the use of welfare payments, in contrast to the response of provincial authorities a century earlier.

Chart 1: Annual Expenditure for Administration, Education, Medical Care, and Relief and Welfare during the Fiscal Years 1910/11 to 1939/40 Inclusive


Source: W.S. Arneil, "Investigation Report on Indian Reserves and Indian Administration, Province of Nova Scotia" (Ottawa: Indian Affairs Branch, Department of Mines and Resources, August 1941)

The willingness of the Canadian public and Canadian governments to meet problems of economic hardship on the part of Aboriginal people with transfer payments continued to build in the post-War period. While Aboriginal people were not always included in the programs offered by an expanding welfare state, particularly in the early stages, by the 1960's most forms of discrimination in the availability of social programs had disappeared. Thus, in the absence of a solid economic base, the dependence of Aboriginal people on social assistance continued to grow. For the on-reserve population in Canada as a whole, 37 per cent were reliant on social assistance by 1981, a figure that grew to 45 per cent by 1995. Projected into the future and taking account of anticipated demographic change, the rate of dependence on social assistance is expected to reach almost 60 per cent by the year 2010 (Chart 2). In the Atlantic Region, we were already at the 74 per cent level in 1992, with the forecast for the year 2010 rising to a staggering 85 per cent unless something changes drastically.

Chart 2: On-Reserve Social Assistance Rate, Trend and Forecast (Canada 1981-2010)


Sources: J. Chen, T. Rogers and H. Tait, "Social Assistance Dependency on Reserve: An Initial Overview of Levels and Trends", Quantitative Analysis and Socio-demographic research, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, February 22, 1994; Francois Nault, Jiajian Chen, M. V. George and Mary Jane Norris, Population Projections of Registered Indians, 1991 - 2015, Statistics Canada, prepared for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 1993; Indian and Northern Affairs Research Analysis Directorate; also personal communication with Four Directions Consulting, Winnepeg, Manitoba, concerning work in progress, July, 1997.

This response by public authorities could be, and indeed is, interpreted as a humane and even generous one, especially in contrast with the failure of colonial authorities to provide relief a century earlier when it was so badly needed. The difficulty is that this has been the principal and virtually the only response to the declining economic situation. Significant and effective measures to protect what remained of the Aboriginal economic base and to assist in its rebuilding have not been undertaken. Indeed, the historical record bears out the conclusion that, even in this century, governments and the private sector have continued to take actions that serve to undermine Aboriginal economies on the one hand while steadily increasing the availability of welfare payments on the other. Dams have been built, lands flooded, streams polluted, regulatory regimes imposed, and communities relocated, usually to benefit interests other than the Aboriginal community.

We are now caught in a cycle where costs for welfare and related remedial measures continue to grow while funds for economic development stagnate or are reduced. Chart 3 shows what the federal government estimated it would spend on Aboriginal people in 1995/96, as well as actual expenditures in earlier years. The amount allocated for what might be called social problem spending (social assistance, health, housing, policing) has grown from 30 to 40 per cent of total spending in the period between 1981/82 and 1995/96. The amount allocated for economic development (broadly defined to include items such as economic development, business development, and land claims) decreased from 10 per cent to 8 per cent, while the proportion allocated to education and training has grown slightly from 19 to 22 per cent.

Chart 3: Federal Expenditures on Programs Directed to Aboriginal Peoples: Selected Years (Percent Allocated to Each Activity)



  1. Economic development includes spending by DIAND for economic development, land claims, and lands/revenues and trusts. It also includes Aboriginal business development spending by Industry Canada.
  2. Education and training includes education spending by DIAND and training by Employment and Immigration (now Human Resource Development)
  3. Social welfare includes DIAND spending on social assistance and social services, health-related spending by Health Canada, expenditures on housing by CMHC, and on policing by the Solicitor General.

Data are for fiscal years beginning in April of the year indicated. Expenditures listed in this table pertain only to programs directed specifically to Aboriginal people. Not included are federal expenditures on programs directed to the general population, a share of which relates to Aboriginal people.

Source: Adapted from Table 2.7, Federal Expenditures on Programs Directed to Aboriginal People, in Renewal: A Twenty Year Committment, Volume 5 of the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1996, p.35.

The overriding impression left by these figures, and by the experience of Aboriginal communities across the country, is that governments continue to meet economic distress with income support payments rather than investing in the often more difficult measures that would rebuild Aboriginal economies.

We desperately need to break out of this dynamic. A welfare economy provides a minimal level of income for its "beneficiaries" and a measure of economic security, but it exacts an enormous cost in terms of individual self-esteem and family and community well-being. While change may be politically difficult, Aboriginal people are the first to say that it is not in their long-term best interest. Neither is it in the interest of Canadian society generally, for the overall costs of such an economy are steep and rising, with no light at the end of the tunnel. The issue before us, then, is how to protect what remains of the Aboriginal economic base and rebuild what has been destroyed. Additionally, how do we make the transition from policy choices that seek to alleviate the symptoms of economic distress to those that would contribute to the creation of more self-reliant Aboriginal economies?

3. The Diversity of Contemporary Aboriginal Economies

Before proceeding with a summary of the recommendations of the Royal Commission with respect to economic development, it is instructive to describe a bit of the diversity of Aboriginal economies. The picture that emerges from aggregate statistics and the popular media often suggests that Aboriginal economies are quite similar to each other across the country. Images of Davis Inlet spring to mind. In fact, there is a great deal of diversity in the ways in which people in Aboriginal communities make a living and in how they organize their productive activities.

We will provide a brief sketch of four types of Aboriginal economies, based on information provided by 16 community case studies carried out under the auspices of the Royal Commission's research program. We pay particular attention to their distinctive features. One of the implications of this diversity is that it is very difficult for policies and programs made in Ottawa, or even in the provincial/territorial capitals, to have sufficient flexibility so that they support, rather than impede, the development of Aboriginal economies across the country.

3.1 The Territorial North

The Commission's two case studies in the territorial north, Pangnirtung and Ross River, and Nain in Labrador all have a significant portion of their adult population engaged in the traditional pursuits of fishing, hunting or trapping, albeit with modern technology. Finding ways to make a living while preserving natural resources and the environment is in fact one of the central challenges of life in the north.

The economies of northern Aboriginal communities are often referred to as mixed economies, meaning that participation in traditional activities for subsistence is mixed with other elements. It may include selling a portion of the proceeds of the hunt on the market, or having a family member involved in wage employment in the public or private sector. It will also involve at least some members of the kinship unit receiving some form of transfer payments, such as unemployment insurance, social assistance, or an old age pension.

With respect to wage employment, one of the largest sources is the public sector, whether it is the hamlet/municipality/reserve, or the territorial or federal government. Related to this is the non-profit public sector, the service and political organizations that receive their funding from one or other of the governments and that have expanded considerably in number and scope in the last several decades.

Wage employment and self-employment are also found in the private sector in northern Aboriginal communities although typically the private sector is not well developed. It may take the form of a cooperative grocery store, a construction company that has little competition because of the isolation of the community, small firms in the service sector catering to the region's population or to the occasional tourist, or household-based businesses in the arts and crafts industry.

All three of the Commission's northern case studies also have had, or expect to have, some involvement with the non-renewable mining sector, whether this takes the form of employment/contracting with a large, capital intensive and externally owned corporation or a more modest, locally owned quarrying operation.

As we have witnessed in the North, significant changes in economic potential can be brought about through the conclusion of comprehensive land claim agreements which may expand land ownership, access to resources and the exercise of powers of self-government.

3.2 The Provincial North

The Royal Commission undertook four case studies of Aboriginal economies in the provincial north - the Alberta Metis Settlements, La Loche in northern Saskatchewan, Lac Seul in the north west of Ontario, and the Montagnais communities in the north-east region of Quebec.

The types of employment that we have reviewed for the territorial north also make sense for the provincial north, although there are some differences. There are fewer people involved in the traditional economy of hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering, for example, although this is still an important activity as measured by the food and income it provides and the significance it has for Aboriginal cultures.

The natural resource sector is also different in the sense that, in contrast to the territorial north, forestry-based activities are possible in addition to mining, and there is even some prospect for agricultural activity in the more southern regions of the provincial north.

The history of communities in the territorial north often features instances of destructive community relocations mandated by outside authorities, and this theme continues in the provincial north. The damaging effects on communities of major resource development projects can also be noted, whether the source is environmental pollution from a mine or the flooding of traditional lands because of a hydro development project.

A powerful theme in several of the Commission's provincial north cases is the incursion of provincial regulatory regimes and their negative effects on Aboriginal lands, resources, and the livelihood base. We tend to think of these as being in the more distant past, but the case study of Lac Seul makes the point that provincial regulations such as trapline, environmental and wildlife management systems have affected the communities primarily in the last 30 years, and they continue to present a serious problem:

"For us, the tragedy of outside resource management regulation is that many of the decisions of non-Aboriginal governments restrict the lives of our people on our lands in ways that conflict with our culture and place it at risk. In addition, ecological knowledge that we consider to be important in making "land-use" decisions – knowledge of bear fishing locations, migratory waterfowl nesting and staging areas, key feeding areas and habitat for a variety of animals, etc., – has most often not even been used when non-Aboriginal governments have made decisions on land use in our customary territories. The Government of Ontario might have thought twice about approving the flooding of Lac Seul if its decision had been made from our cultural perspective concerning the wealth of our Lands."

3.3 Southern Rural

The Commission's case studies located in more southern but rural parts of the provinces include Alert Bay (a coastal community in British Columbia), the Peigan Nation in southern Alberta, the Six Nations reserve in Ontario, Kitigan Zibi located at Maniwaki, Quebec, and Big Cove on the north shore of New Brunswick. While again there is considerable diversity among these communities, still there are some common features that distinguish this type of economy from those described previously.

A sector of traditional activity remains, but it is smaller than in the northern areas and often has to contend with a more restricted land and resource base. Participation in hunting, fishing or trapping may be more part time than full time, and take on more of a recreational flavour. It may also take the form of gathering wood for fuel or berries and other edible foods for home consumption.

While these economies are rural in nature, one of their key characteristics is their location in proximity to large urban markets. Thus it is possible for a portion of the labour force to commute to urban areas for employment, and the reserve residents are also likely to purchase consumer goods in town. However, the rural community can still be described as an enclave economy, not well integrated into the surrounding regional economy and producing few goods and services for people living outside the community. Perhaps the major exceptions to this statement have been the development of the gambling, cigarette and alcohol trade in recent years. Because of their location, some communities are able to attract customers to tourism and recreational ventures such as golf courses and Aboriginal theme parks.

In contrast to communities in the more northern regions, those located in the rural south are likely to have gone further with the import substitution phase of economic development. Some, such as Six Nations, need to plan for the next phase of economic development, one that is more outward looking and that takes advantage of the export opportunities that access to a large urban market can provide. This type of development requires new forms of infrastructure and institutional supports if it is to succeed, such as larger amounts of capital, the development of local bank branches and credit unions, more sophisticated forms of planning, including by laws on business location, land use and environmental protection.

However, local governments in these southern rural communities are already well developed. They are likely to be managed by professional staff, and to have become differentiated into specialized public sector institutions that have assumed responsibility for services such as health, education, social services, economic development or policing. The labour force of Aboriginal communities located in southern rural areas will have higher levels of education than those in the north, and closer connection to community colleges or universities. Some post-secondary institutions may be located in or near the community, or may offer courses on a decentralized basis.

3.4 Urban

The Commission's research includes four case studies of Aboriginal economies in urban areas. These are studies of Kamloops, Regina (where one deals with First Nations and another with Metis), and Winnipeg.

Aboriginal population growth in urban areas is fueled by two factors – the influx of migrants from rural areas and the natural rate of increase of the population that is already residing in the urban area. The result is that there is tremendous pressure to find employment, housing, education and other services and, if efforts to do so are insufficient, then one can expect to find the social consequences emerging in the form of poverty, unemployment, the growth of street gangs, and so on.

The urban area does provide more economic opportunity than is available in most rural, reserve communities, and this is reflected in figures which typically show that urban Aboriginal employment rates, income levels, education levels, and the prospects of finding a full-time job are higher. Nevertheless, the figures also show that, when compared to the non-Aboriginal, urban population, the urban Aboriginal population is distinctly worse off.

While the urban Aboriginal population is predominantly low income and poorly educated, there is also an emerging group of middle class, professional persons who have achieved an improved socio-economic position in part because of their success in obtaining higher levels of education and in part because of positions that have become available in the publicly-funded organizations that have developed in the last three decades. These grew in response to the larger Aboriginal population in urban areas, seeking to speak for, and provide services to, the swelling numbers.

In contrast to the other types of Aboriginal economies we have described above, the urban situation is distinguished by a number of features:

  • the fact that Aboriginal people are dispersed among a large non-Aboriginal population in urban areas.
  • Aboriginal people in urban areas are likely to come from different nations or cultural groupings, making it more difficult for them to come together in a cohesive manner.
  • the urban Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal population provides a large potential market, so Aboriginal business development remains an important means of increasing employment. However, the economic environment also includes thousands of already-established non-Aboriginal businesses, making employment in those businesses a logical and important part of an employment strategy.
  • while representative political organizations exist to speak for urban Aboriginal populations, there is often conflict among them over who speaks for whom. Additionally, they lack the resources and the jurisdiction to act with authority on the concerns of their members.
  • there is a continuing jurisdictional tangle. While Metis tend to be neglected by federal programs, First Nations people in urban areas are frequently caught in the middle of federal-provincial disputes over who has the responsibility and the resources to meet their needs.
  • with a few exceptions there is no urban land base. However, funds to purchase land in urban areas can be made available through comprehensive or specific land claims, or through treaty land entitlement settlements, and these lands could possibly be given reserve status.

4. Some Preconditions for Aboriginal Economic Development

It is fair to conclude that, over the last several decades, academics, governments and the private sector have come to a better understanding and perhaps to more agreement on the conditions that need to be put in place in the context of which economic development can proceed. Our understanding of Aboriginal economies in particular has been enriched by the work of the Project on American Indian Economic Development at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. There, Joseph Kalt and his colleagues and students have undertaken a large number of case studies of tribal economies in the United States, seeking to identify the factors associated with successful economic development as defined by the tribes themselves. They contrast these instances with the larger number of cases where such development has not taken hold.

One of their conclusions is that political leaders and policy makers are forever trying to pick winners Ð that is, potentially successful business ventures -- rather than putting their energies into getting the institutional framework and preconditions for economic development right:

For many Indian nations and their leaders, the problem of economic development has been defined as one of picking the right project. Tribal governments often devote much of their development-related time and energy to considering whether or not to pursue specific projects: a factory, a mine, an agricultural enterprise, a motel and so on.....

Picking winners is important, but it is also rare. In fact, Indian Country is dotted with failed projects that turned sour as investors' promises evaporated, as enterprises failed to attract customers, as managers found themselves overwhelmed by market forces and political instability. In fact, many tribes pursue development backwards, concentrating first on picking the next winning project at the expense of attention to political and economic institutions and broader development strategies. Development success is marked, in part, by the sustainability of projects. Generally speaking, only when sound political and economic institutions and overall development strategies are in place do projects -- public or private -- become sustainable on reservations.

As the quotation indicates, economic development is about more than "picking winners". They conclude that the following elements are among the most important components for success:

External Opportunity

External opportunity refers to the political, economic, and geographic settings of reservations. There are four dimensions that are particularly important for economic development:

  • political sovereignty: the degree to which a tribe has genuine control over reservation decision making, the use of reservation resources, and relations with the outside world.
  • market opportunity: unique economic niches or opportunities in local, regional or national markets which come from particular assets or attributes (minerals, tourist attractions, distinctive artistic or craft traditions) or from supportive government policies
  • access to financial capital: the ability of the tribe to obtain investment dollars from private, government or other sources
  • distance from markets: the distance tribes are from markets for their products.

Internal Assets

Internal assets refers to the characteristics of the tribes and the resources they control that can be committed to development. Again, there are four important variables:

  • natural resources: minerals, water, timber, fish, wildlife, scenery, fertile land, oil, gas, etc.
  • human capital: the skills, knowledge, and expertise of the labour force acquired through education, training or work experience
  • institutions of governance: the laws and organization of tribal government from constitutions to legal or business codes to the tribal bureaucracy. As these institutions become more effective at maintaining a stable and productive environment, the chances of success improve
  • culture: conceptions of normal and proper ways of doing things and relating to other people and the behaviour that embodies those conceptions. As the fit between the culture of the community and the structure and powers of the governing institutions becomes better, the more legitimate the institutions become and the more able they are to regulate and organize the development process

Development Strategy

Development strategy refers to the decisions tribes make regarding their plans and approaches to economic development. There are two key decisions:

  • overall economic system: the organization of the reservation economy itself, on such questions as the form of ownership of business enterprises and the approach to economic development (e.g., tribal enterprises, individual or family entrepreneurship, joint ventures, etc.). The prospects of successful development are improved if there is a good fit between the economic system chosen by the tribe and its social organization and culture
  • choice of development activity: the selection of specific development projects, such as a convenience store, a gaming operation, a motel or a manufacturing plant. Activities which take advantage of tribes' market opportunities, allow tribes to specialize in using natural and /or human resources most available to them, and are consistent with tribes' cultures are more likely to be successful.

Whether in a Canadian or United States context, it is not likely that a particular nation or tribe will be strong in all areas, nor is this necessary. Different development strategies require a different mix of elements - an Aboriginal nation emphasizing high technology development, for example, would want to emphasize human resource development and may be less concerned about distance from markets or the natural resource base. In general, however, the more elements in place, the better the nation's prospects for building a successful and diversified economic base.

5. Nine Steps to Rebuild Aboriginal Economies

The Commission's analysis of Aboriginal economies shares the view that the important thing is to put in place the conditions in the context of which economic development can proceed. To this end, its recommendations, which are summarized here, deal with many of the conditions specified above.

5.1 Regaining Control

The Commission's research makes repeated reference to the need for Aboriginal nations to regain control over the levers that govern their economies, in the context of the broader emphasis on self-determination and self-government. In a speech to a Royal Commission Round Table discussion, Joseph Kalt compared those American tribal groups that had achieved higher and stable levels of economic development with those that had not. He concluded that:

When we look around reservations, we find key ingredients to economic development. The first is sovereignty itself. One of the interesting phenomena that we see in the United States is that those tribes who have broken out economically and really begun to sustain economic development are uniformly marked by an assertion of sovereignty that pushes the Bureau of Indian Affairs into a pure advisory role rather than a decision-making role.

Why is the exercise of sovereignty a key? Well, we think in part it's because our Bureau of Indian Affairs in the United States faces a severe conflict of interest. The fate of the Bureau of Indian Affairs rises and falls with the fate of Indian country. The higher the unemployment rate, the worse the poverty, the better off is the Bureau of Indian Affairs , its budget rises, its staff rises, its power rises. The individuals who work for our Bureau of Indian Affairs are in general perfectly fine individuals but they work within a system that creates a tremendous conflict of interest in which it is not in the interests of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to spur economic development and reduce dependence on reservations. And in case after case after case, we find the Bureau of Indian Affairs standing as an impediment to economic development.

The Royal Commission case studies add other dimensions to this argument. In the case of our Lac Seul case study, for example, the focus is on lack of decision-making power over traditional lands and resources. Non-Aboriginal rules and regulations hold sway and these are rooted in a world view that is quite different from Aboriginal perspectives. The result is cultural conflict and a retreat from economic activity on the part of the Anishinaabe people:

"Does this mean that, unless we adopt the non-Aboriginal way of economic organization fully, we can never have the `resources' at our disposal to achieve economic independence? Not necessarily, is how our focus group results would best be interpreted. As Anishinaabe people living at Lac Seul, we have immense knowledge of our Lands. We have livelihood customs which represent significant economic strengths that could be put to use in developing new economic pursuits as well as nurturing `traditional' ones. If we had security of access to our Lands we could develop appropriate financing mechanisms to take advantage of economic opportunities. This is the `capital' that many Lac Seul people would use to nurture their economic recovery. Unfortunately, the knowledge, skills and the customary organizational strengths of our people which are expressed in our culture cannot be used by them in ways they would often prefer. This is because we are missing the one ingredient necessary to undertake livelihood projects as we would want: authority in relation to our Lands."

Another illustration comes from the La Loche case study, which describes a community where the major part of economic