Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

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Concept description

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP, reference below, report pdf on right) was a Canadian Royal Commission established in 1991 in the wake of the Oka Crisis.

Establishment of the Commission

Audrey Doerr (reference below) writes:

“The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was established following the Oka Crisis in the summer of 1990 as part of a package of federal government initiatives in response to concerns arising from the crisis. The terms of reference (the scope of the commission) were developed following consultations conducted by former Chief Justice Brian Dickson with national and regional Aboriginal groups, Aboriginal leaders in various fields, federal and provincial politicians, and a variety of experts. Upon receipt of Dickson’s report, the federal government established the Commission by order-in-council on 26 August 1991. The mandate of the Commission was to study the evolution of the relationship between Aboriginal peoples, the government of Canada and Canadian society as a whole. …

“The broad mandate of the Commission was translated into a large and complex research agenda. Consultations were held with Aboriginal groups on the development of the research plan. The integrated research plan, which was published in 1993, had four theme areas: governance; land and economy; social and cultural issues; and the North. In addition, these themes were addressed from four perspectives: historical, women, youth and urban. Two co-directors were engaged to manage the research program. In its public hearings process, the Commission visited Aboriginal communities across Canada and heard briefs from over 2,000 people. More than 350 research studies were commissioned.”

The report

“The five-volume report was released on 21 November 1996 at a special ceremony in Hull, Québec. The report included Vol 1: Looking Forward, Looking Back; Vol 2: Restructuring the Relationship (2 parts); Vol 3: Gathering Strength; Vol 4: Perspectives and Realities; and Vol 5: Renewal: A Twenty-Year Commitment.

“The main conclusion of the report was the need for a complete restructuring of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Some of the broader recommendations included the proposal for a new Royal Proclamation; which would require the government to commit to a new set of ethical principles respecting the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the state. This new relationship would acknowledge and respect Aboriginal cultures and values, the historical origins of Aboriginal nationhood and the inherent right to Aboriginal self-determination. Implementing many of the recommendations in the Royal Commission would have required constitutional change.”

Response and legacy

“When the Report was released the federal government made a commitment to study it and its recommendations. However, the federal government did not call a First Ministers’ Conference within six months of the Report’s release, as recommended by the Commission. Rather, it issued a lengthy information document outlining government achievements from 1993. When the federal government made a formal response on 7 January 1998, its proposals emphasized non-constitutional approaches to selected issues raised by the Report. The four objectives of the federal response were renewing partnerships; strengthening Aboriginal governance; developing a new fiscal relationship; and supporting strong communities, people and economies. The federal government issued a Statement of Reconciliation in which it expressed profound regret for errors of the past and a commitment to learn from those errors. This was accompanied by a commitment of $350 million to be used to support community-based healing, especially to deal with the legacy of abuse in the residential schools system. Very little response was given by provincial governments, which viewed the report as a federal initiative.

“Though federal and provincial governments recognize and support practical initiatives to address social and economic issues included in the Report, there has been relatively little government interest in constitutional discussions on issues affecting Aboriginal peoples and communities. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Report provides an Aboriginal perspective on Canadian history and the role Aboriginal peoples should play in contemporary society. The scope of the recommendations was more far-reaching than any other Royal Commission, including major policy commissions like the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism and the Royal Commission on Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada. However, because of barriers, or reluctance, to constitutional change, the Report’s long-term value will be more likely as a major research effort than as a master plan for change.”


Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996), QSpace – Queen’s Research & Learning Repository, at, accessed 2 October 2016.

Audrey Doerr (2015), Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Canadian Encyclopedia, at, accessed 2 October 2016.

Topic, subject and Atlas course

Indigenous Governance in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 2 October 2016.

Image: Government of Canada, Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969, at, accessed 2 October 2016.