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Globe editorial: Indigenous people need results, not new ministries

Well, now we finally know why the Trudeau government has kept almost none of its election promises regarding First Nations, Métis and Inuit people: It's the fault of the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

That is what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would like Canadians to believe, anyway. Reeling from criticism from Indigenous groups, he announced in a cabinet shuffle on Monday that the old department would be split into two new ones.

Jane Philpott moves from Minister of Health to the new portfolio of Minister of Indigenous Services. Carolyn Bennett, who struggled as Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, becomes Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

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There is an aspect of common sense to this bifurcation. Ms. Philpott will work on delivering the social services and basic infrastructure so desperately needed on reserves. Ms. Bennett, meanwhile will focus on treaty negotiations and on ending the Indian Act, an outdated law that prevents First Nations from managing their own affairs on their territories. Both are big jobs in themselves.

But let's be honest: Canada's Indigenous people don't need new org charts to follow – they need politicians in Ottawa who have the ability to actually fix their problems.

The Trudeau government has made no headway in closing the discriminatory gap in funding for education and health services on reserves, or in reducing the Indigenous suicide rate, or in dealing with high incarceration rates for Indigenous men and women, or on any other major file. Will adding a ministry change that?

Mr. Trudeau excels at rhetorical flourishes about "nation-to-nation relationships" and ending the "colonial" Indian Act, and at grand gestures such as launching the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.

But his grandiloquent words don't bring clean water to reserves, or change any of the other stark realities of life for Indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, the MMIWG inquiry has floundered, because Mr. Trudeau put too much effort into the political branding opportunity it represented and not enough into thinking through the inquiry's mandate.

If Monday's shuffling of the deck is supposed to amount to anything more than standard-issue Trudeau-government posturing on Indigenous affairs, then let's see some results for once.

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