Bill overhauls Indian Act - Tory backbencher introduces law
By: Mia Rabson - June 5, 2012
OTTAWA -- A Conservative backbencher from Saskatchewan introduced a bill Monday that could eventually replace the Indian Act.
Rob Clarke, MP for Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, introduced a private member's bill that would delete all references in the act to residential schools and repeal or amend certain sections dealing with wills, education and band bylaws. It will also require the minister of aboriginal affairs to report every year what work he has undertaken to replace the Indian Act with new legislation.
The Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act won't be debated until at least the fall.
"We're looking at tangible results for First Nations, trying to incrementally get rid of the colonial pact of 1876 that came in place," Clarke said in a scrum Monday afternoon.
He said, for example, it's time to allow First Nations to pass and apply their own bylaws, to hunt and farm and to write their own wills without having to get approval from the minister of aboriginal affairs.
The Indian Act governs all government relations with First Nations, from health care to education to economic development. It has been the bane of many First Nations' existence for decades and chiefs nationwide decry it as a noose that prevents bands from pursuing real prosperity.
It's not clear whether Clarke has his government's support for the bill or why, if the government does support the bill, it is coming from the backbench rather than from cabinet.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said through a spokesman Monday the government recognizes it's time to make changes to the Indian Act but did not say whether he supports Clarke's bill. Instead, the spokesman pointed to bills Duncan introduced that would make major changes to how First Nations elections are conducted and force more public dissemination of band finances.
At the Crown-First Nations gathering in Ottawa in January, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it is true the Indian Act leads to outcomes "we all deplore," but it wasn't smart to simply throw out the act.
"After 136 years, that tree has deep roots. Blowing up the stump would just leave a big hole," he said in January.
Clarke said Monday he supports the principles of the government. His bill does not purport to blow up the act either but calls for its gradual replacement in consultation with First Nations.
It would repeal certain sections immediately, such as Section 82, which requires First Nations to send the minister copies of new bylaws and prevents them from coming into force until the minister approves them. Instead, bylaws would become law on First Nations after they are published in newspapers or in First Nations journals.
The bill also repeals sections 42 to 47, which require the minister to approve all wills of First Nations people and gives the minister power to nullify a will and appoint executors.
It also amends provisions related to education, including repealing a section that allows a First Nations child not to attend school if the local school can't accommodate the child.
"I've talked to many chiefs," Clarke said. "Everyone is under the impression they've got to get rid of the Indian Act."
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak did not want to comment on the bill Monday.
Clarke is a former RCMP officer and a member of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation north of Saskatoon.