Nault pushes ahead with Indian Act changes

Indian Affairs minister Robert Nault is continuing with the next phase of proposed changes to the Indian Act despite criticisms from native groups that say it should be abolished completely.
“We’ve got a large agenda that’s only a quarter announced. We’ve got three quarters of it still to go,” Nault said following a meeting here last Wednesday.
The next piece of legislation as part of the First Nations Governance Initiative is the fiscal institutions act, which is intended to give First Nations the ability to generate revenue like any other government at the same rates.
“Those are the kinds of changes that we need to make,” Nault said. “We will be consulting on a draft piece of legislation relating to the fiscal institutions very shortly.”
In addition to drafting more legislation, Nault said an intense consultation process must continue with First Nations groups across the country to make sure they’ve got it right.
“On the First Nations governance, we said all along we believe this piece of legislation will sell itself,” he remarked.
“We’ve put it out to First Nations people. We want their input and we want them to go in front of the standing committee on Indian and Northern Affairs and tell the committee what they think of the bill, whether it meets the needs of proved tools of governance as an interim step to self-government.
“Self-government is still our priority but based on our information, we are a long way from having self-government across the nation and we need an interim step to that,” Nault explained.
“That’s where we will be expecting First Nation people to take an active role.”
But many native groups across the country have condemned the proposed legislation. Couchiching Chief Chuck McPherson has stated, as previously reported in the Times, that he can’t support the new changes because it means embracing Indian Act and denies self-government.
Assembly of First Nations Chief Matthew Coon Come has argued Nault merely is repeating the mistakes of the first Indian Act.
Nault isn’t fazed by their criticisms.
“Is there opposition? In any major change in policy, there is going to be a debate,” Nault said. “People have a right to voice concerns and make arguments and I will be quite willing and ready to respond to those concerns.”
Nault is prepared to defend the First Nations Governance Initiative. “Whether they be a suggestion by some that we’re diminishing treaty rights, I will argue very strenuously that that is not our agenda,” he pledged.
“If it’s suggested we’re being paternalistic, I will argue that this is an enabling piece of legislation that gives powers to communities and community members, and is not about the minister controlling the lives of members of the First Nations,” added Nault.
More than 10,000 First Nations people across Canada were consulted by the government before the first changes to the Indian Act were announced in June.
The initial act, passed by Parliament in 1876, gives the federal government control over First Nations people living on reserves and distinguishes between status and non-status Indians.
“I’m ready to respond to those [with criticisms] but I think it’s important for people to read it first,” Nault urged. “Before we get into a huge discussion, I want people to take the time to read it and to give me their input on it.”