Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 1998


Published in Great Plains Research Vol. 8 No. 2, 1998. Copyright ©1998 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Used by permission.


In 1984, Canada's Supreme Court stunned Ottawa by ordering the Department of Indian Affairs to compensate an Indian Reserve for the Department's mismanaging of a golf course development. Federal management of Indian lands under the Indian Act had previously been regarded as discretionary and unreviewable, but the Supreme Court threatened to hold Canada to a high standard of "fiduciary responsibility" in the exercise of its sweeping powers over Indian nations.

The implications of this landmark decision remain uncertain, however. Canadian courts are hesitant and inconsistent when they invoke the fiduciary principle, and Ottawa strenuously denies any application of fiduciary standards to the quality or quantity of Federal programs in areas such as education and health.

What has been missing, Leonard Rotman contends in Parallel Paths, is a coherent theory based on the origins and functions of the Crown's fiduciary responsibility to Indians. His attempt to fill this gap is flawed, regrettably, by historical fictions and internal contradictions, and does more to legitimize the Federal supervision of Indians than to validate its restriction.