It’s time to end the Indian Act
Published On Sat Jul 24 2010. Shaen Atleo, AFN National Chief
The following is excerpted from a speech delivered this week to the annual convention of the Assembly of First Nations by National Chief Shawn Atleo:
Let’s challenge the government and reach out to Canadians to support us and to work with us as willing partners on a plan to move beyond the Indian Act, a plan consistent with our treaties, the Constitution and UN Declaration. . . .
Many leaders for many years have called for First Nations to get out from under the shadow of the act. More than 60 years ago, in 1946, Andrew Paull, speaking for the National Indian Brotherhood at a joint Senate and House of Commons committee studying Indian policy, said: “The administration of the Indian Act is the most bureaucratic and dictatorial system ever imposed in this world of ours.” And First Nations leaders at the time stated clearly that First Nations do not want the Indian Act.
The Indian Act is a collapsing house, falling apart brick by brick and bashed by the courts. We’ve seen the White Paper, the First Nations Governance Act. These attempts failed but the efforts continue and they will keep coming at us, and the current approach is to do it piece-by-piece, bill-by-bill. The reality is the government is already trying to replace the act, but not in a way that will work for us. If we don’t move on a better approach then the government will.
So the question is: Do we want to continue reacting piece-by-piece, blow-by-blow to the federal agenda trying to protect a status quo we already regret? Do we want our current leadership to be quoted 60 years from now saying the same things? Or is it time to boldly suggest that within two to five years, the Indian Act will no longer be part of our lives? . . .
We can draw on the good work and innovative ideas generated by First Nations and others over the years to set out an approach that would include:
• A national First Nations-Crown relationship gathering to kick-start the process and create a First Nations-Crown agreement on a comprehensive plan for change. This agreement would have legal force and it would affirm our treaties, rights and aboriginal title.
• We can seek legal confirmation that First Nations funding will reflect the responsibilities faced by First Nations governments, and convene a first ministers meeting to begin transitioning to the implementation of direct fiscal transfer arrangements to First Nations based on population, inflation and need. And this will all be done in the knowledge that real decision-making authority will allow us to build our economies and move towards self-sufficiency
• We will confirm an approach to accountable and successful administration and capacity-building for First Nations governments and other governments, including accountability to us by the federal government.
• And we will once and for all work to dismantle the unnecessary machinery of the Department of Indian Affairs, which only perpetuates our poverty. The department will evolve in favour of leaner and more efficient entities like a Ministry of First Nations-Crown Relations; a Section 35 Attorney General and a Treaty Rights Tribunal, all of which will ensure our constitutional rights are safeguarded and implemented.
I believe we are bold enough and brave enough to take on this challenge and create a real legacy for our children that is built on the vision of our elders.