Indian Act must be abolished: native groups

Local native groups say there’s no way they can accept proposed changes to the Indian Act because doing so would mean they accept the act itself.
Couchiching Chief Chuck McPherson said supporting the changes means embracing the Indian Act. “And I don’t. It denies self-government,” he argued.
More than 200 First Nations chiefs from across Canada charted a course of action on governance for themselves last month.
They asserted their right of self-determination and condemned the so-called First Nations Governance Initiative of the federal government as a unilateral attempt to undermine the inherent right to self-government of First Nations. 
“This is the same approach that resulted in the original Indian Act,” charged Matthew Coon Come, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
“The minister of Indian Affairs [Robert Nault] is simply repeating the mistakes of the past,” he stressed.
But Nault said he believes the proposed legislation will benefit First Nations communities immensely.
“When Matthew [Coon Come] shows concern, he should, that’s his role,” said Nault. “How we’ll overcome this is by showing people the legislation and what that will mean to everyday people’s lives.
“It’s about the people, after all, and nobody in this debate has said they disagree with the fact that the Indian Act is an archaic piece of legislation that doesn’t work for people in 2002 and beyond so we’ve already passed that part of the debate.
“The question is now: what do we replace this structure with and obviously, it’s the initiative of myself and many others who believe we can’t build a modern society without good governance, without good fundamentals, without good tools, so that’s really the objective of this exercise,” Nault concluded.
Chief McPherson said not all changes would affect Couchiching, any way.
“There were three things that were critical: election, accountability, and the status of First Nation communities,” he noted. “Under the current [system], the minister can make changes relating to the election process. It doesn’t have to be legislated.”
And in terms of accountability regarding band finances, Chief McPherson said his council has an open door policy with band members.
“If any band member wants to see our records, they’re free to do so. That combined with the contribution agreement. Any time we receive money, part of the [agreement] states we have to provide statements.
“It’s already addressed,” he said.
Calling changes to the Indian Act a “smoking gun,” Chief McPherson wondered what the end result—as seen by Nault—might be.
“Does he want us to be municipalities? The term ‘reserve’ has no meaning or legal status already,” he said. “I’m not sure what it means.”
Many native groups share Chief McPherson’s sentiment that supporting changes to the Indian Act is a “catch-22.” If they support the initiatives, they’re saying they support the act.
Nault has gone on the record saying he would like to legislate himself out of a job and see the Indian Act abolished. People like Chief McPherson also would like to see this happen.
“I’d like to see a self-government process that recognizes our own abilities, with recognition to enact and enforce our own laws with jurisdiction over resources,” he said.
“The treaties said we would share the resources, but that’s not what happened.”
Nault said the proposed legislation would provide an interim step toward self-government and is not meant to replace existing legislation.
Between last spring and fall, 10,000 First Nations people from across Canada were consulted by the government and provided their opinions and ideas.
Then a joint ministerial advisory committee, including First Nations representatives, was formed in March to advise Nault.
The first Indian Act was passed by Parliament in 1876. Although there have been several major revisions over the years, many of its provisions remain to this day.
The Indian Act gave great powers to government to control First Nations people living on reserves. It also distinguished between status and non-status Indians.
Status Indians are those who are registered with the federal government as Indians according to the terms of the Indian Act. Non-status Indians are those who are not.