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PM says one thing, but Clarke is doing another
A private member’s bill that won’t be introduced until May at the earliest has proven controversial already.
“Somebody misspoke. It shouldn’t have been put out until Mr. Clarke brought it forward,” said a spokesperson in the office of Rob Clarke, Conservative MP for Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River (Saskatchewan).
The private member’s bill, which has been on the order paper since Dec. 7, calls for the repeal of the Indian Act.
Clarke’s intention was made public following the First Nations-Crown gathering on Jan. 24 and came as a surprise.
“What’s important is we heard the Prime Minister say that they have no grand scheme to get rid of (the Indian Act),” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo.
First Nations chiefs and one provincial Métis leader have slammed the bill.
“The Indian Act is a paternalistic document and I think there should be a process in which (First Nations) come up with a different scenario,” said Driftpile Chief Rose Laboucan, “and not some other piece of document someone else puts together for us.”
Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson expressed surprise at Clarke’s action and called for him to immediately withdraw his private member’s bill.
“An initiative to repeal the Indian Act should first be discussed with Indigenous people. It is quite distressing for our people to learn from the news media that a Member of Parliament from our own region would even contemplate such an initiative without first seeking our views,” said Cook-Searson, in a prepared statement.
Atleo supported Cook-Searson’s statement, adding, “I would suggest strongly that unilateral, bringing forward of legislative initiatives is not the way forward. The way forward must be First Nations designing an approach.”
Atleo said to move beyond the Indian Act would require putting something else in place that would uphold the relationship between First Nations and the Crown and which would address treaty obligations.
“But I also want to make it clear that if a First Nation chooses to stay within an Indian Act relationship, that must also be their choice. If this is truly to be led by First Nations then it cannot be imposed. I’ve always expressed this notion that we’ve got to support our autonomy, support the sovereignty of First Nations to drive their own way forward, and make sure we’re not pursuing a one-size-fits-all solution,” said Atleo.
Metis Nation-Saskatchewan President Robert Doucette expressed his surprise “that any Member of Parliament would present a bill for consideration … without asking the people it would impact, without asking their opinion first. Not only that, but ask the Metis, because there is this thing called duty to consult in this country…. Anything that impacts First Nations is also impacting Metis.”
Doucette also expressed surprise that Clarke would present his bill when Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it clear during the First Nations-Crown gathering that there wouldn’t be changes to the Indian Act.
“All of a sudden this private member’s bill appears out of nowhere. So it seems that people weren’t talking to each other. So when you have that sort of differing opinions, especially when it’s coming from the Prime Minister, you need to know clearly what’s happening,” said Doucette.
Atleo said it was of little consequence that the bill to repeal the Indian Act is a private member’s bill, most of which are defeated, or that Clarke is a member of the Muskeg Lake First Nation.
“I don’t think it necessarily matters who it comes from. (It’s) the principle of First Nations more broadly being partners and designing the way forward. If there’s some way that this effort can be transformed into a real full engagement with First Nations and the Crown about ways in which to move beyond the Indian Act, perhaps then it can be constructive,” said Atleo.
Clarke’s spokesperson said the MP would conduct interviews only when the private member’s bill was released.
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