A Private Members Bill to amend aspects of the Indian Act has been introduced to the House of Commons, and is expected to be discussed there this fall.
Saskatchewan MP Rob Clarke, (Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River) introduced the Bill June 4.
The Bill, entitled “An Act to Amend the Indian Act (publication of by-laws) and to provide for its replacement” will remove many outdated and unused sections of the Act, will provide for the removal of all references to residential schools, will repeal the Wills and Estates sections, and will return control over the publication of bylaws to First Nations governance bodies.
Clarke, a Conservative backbencher and member of the Muskeg Lake First Nation, spoke of his Bill as the “8th Fire,” which is a First Nations prophecy meaning it is time to build new relationships.
“I believe this is an important next step toward creating a more respectful and modern relationship between Canada and First Nations,” Clarke said in a statement. “I am particularly pleased with the section of this bill that will require the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to report annually to Parliament on progress made toward fully replacing the Indian Act,” he said.
“There would be lots of consultation,” Clarke told Windspeaker.
“My bill will allow for a lengthy and collaborative consultation period with willing First Nations partners to find the best way to replace the Indian Act.” Clarke said.
“Everyone’s dream is to get rid of the Indian Act, but what I’m trying to do is start the ground work.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, isn’t buying it though. Opposed to Clarke’s Bill, Phillip said consultation with First Nations leaders and communities should have occurred prior to the Bill’s radical introduction.
“I think it’s completely bizarre, but not inconsistent with the Harper legislative agenda which represents an all-out assault on the rights and agenda of First Nations people in Canada,” said Philip.
“This Private Member’s Bill initiative is such a unilateralized approach… There was no consultation with First Nations whatsoever before [the Bill’s] introduction.”
Phillip said he had fully expected respectful consultation regarding future First Nations issues following the Crown First Nation gathering last January. He claims a “joint approach” was to be initiated regarding all issues involving First Nations.
“[Clarke] just decided on his own volition that he was going to toss this Private Members Bill in the mix,” Phillip said.
“The Harper government is proving itself a few clowns short of a circus,” he concluded.
Of course, Phillip has voiced concerns about similar initiatives in the past.
In 2001, then Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault announcement the proposal of a national consultation process regarding the proposed ‘First Nations Governance Act.”
At that time Stewart called Nault’s consultation process “just another elaborate federal con game to off-load federal responsibilities onto the Bands themselves.” He added that “with this process, if you combine con and insult you get ‘consult’.”
Former Minister of Indian Affairs, Ron Irwin, also failed to get support for his package of Indian Act amendments in 1996. Then UBCIC called the move nothing short of “draconian.”
Critics back then claimed the federal government, through the Minister of Indian Affairs, was attempting to: eliminate Indian reserves by converting them to “Fee Simple” lands; eliminate Indian tax immunity (enforcing property, income, and sales taxes and users fees by Indians on Indian lands); Impose application of federal and provincial laws over Indians; and extinguish Aboriginal title and rights to traditional territories (now called acquiring “certainty” over the land).
Minister Irwin’s proposed package was rejected by 85 per cent of the Bands across the country and the Bill later died on the order paper when the federal election was called in June 1997.
Clarke maintains that his Bill is different than past propositions.
“This is 2012,” he points out. “A decade has passed and I’m not trying to find a solution. I’m trying to provide an avenue to bring forth a solution,” he said.
Clarke, who calls the dated Act “archaic” and “quite cumbersome,” says that he knew changes were needed to the legislation when he served with the RCMP prior to being elected. He admits it was difficult working in law enforcement where he was expected to maintain and enforce certain outdated regulations on his people.
Along with hoping to “raise some awareness and discussion and debate,” Clarke said changes must be made to the historic Act in order to cradle the economic development strategies of First Nations people pushing for financial self-reliance.
“What the Indian Act does is inhibit any kind of further economic development for First Nations people,” he said.
Clarke says his Bill has three phases. The first phase being the engagement of meaningful discussion and a discussion around the legislation required for First Nations to form their own bylaws.
The second step includes repealing out-dated legislation around such things as agriculture and residential schools. Finally, Clarke says an amended Act would include provisions for consultation and transparency between the government and First Nations.
“It’s a paternalist document,” Clarke said of the Indian Act. “We need a new model of government that reflects these times… Let’s look at the meat and potatoes of the Indian Act and get rid of an aspect of it and move forward,” he suggested.
John Duncan, federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs, says he backs the Bill.
“The spirit of MP Clarke’s bill is something that I can support. Our government understands that there are impediments to the Indian Act. This is why we have worked in collaboration with our First Nations partners to develop the First Nations Electoral Reform Act, as well as the First Nation Land Management Act, and it is why we continue to work to create opportunities for First Nations communities to participate more fully in Canada’s economy,” Duncan said in a statement. “We’re just waiting to study the bill and make sure there are no implications that would be problematic,” he added.