Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Get Canada out of the apartheid system

In a previous article I decried that Canada needs to largely amend the Indian Act, if not outright scrap the legislation and start from scratch.

Bill C-27, The First Nations Financial Transparency Act, is essential legislation introduced by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan. It will require that aboriginal bands provide public, audited statements of their band’s finances, including their chiefs’ and other officials’ salaries. It will provide insight into the dozens of chiefs making over $300,000 per year, fixed band elections, and hopefully answer questions about why friends of the bands’ chiefs receive near-million dollar contracts.

This money simply vanishes while the communities suffer. Just look at Attawaspiskat. Since 2006 over $90 million has been invested in the community; they received $17.6 million just in 2010-2011 alone. That’s about $9778 for every man, woman, and child per year. Yet we’re seeing deplorable living conditions more fit for the third world than the first.

Former Auditor General Sheila Fraser was clear in her report on First Nations Reserves: “many of the problems facing First Nations go deeper than the existing programs’ last of efficiency and effectiveness. We believe that structural impediments severely limit the delivery of public services to First Nations communities and hinder improvements in living conditions on reserves.”

So it’s not that there are not already programs in place for aboriginals – it’s that there are structural barriers in the way.

But where Ms. Fraser calls for more regulation and legislation, I call for less. Ms. Fraser suggests that just the next step of legislation, the next regulation, if we add just one more person to manage the community, they will be cured. On the other hand, I call for less: for more personal accountability and responsibility, and for the federal government to get out of the apartheid system.

We can start by amending the Indian Act:
  1. S. 18 establishes the reserve system. It states that they’re owned by the Crown, and it’s up to the federal government to determine how the land is used. Get out of this system right now. Subsidizing a portion of society to continue to live in an unviable location is unacceptable.  Allow that individuals be able to purchase their own land, or suggest that they move to economically viable locations.
  1. S. 20 states that no aboriginal ever owns his land, unless the band’s council has specifically allotted him that land. Every person should have a right to own his or her own private property. When the Crown owns the land it effectively makes aboriginals temporary tenants – forever “borrowing” the land at the pleasure of the Crown. Under subsection 4, even if the band’s council has allotted the land, the minister can refuse.
  1. When aboriginals are located above valuable resources, such as oil, their community sees none of the profit. In fact, the subsequent Indian and Oil Gas Act lays on a bureaucratic gauntlet of rules, regulations, and bureaucratic process just to determine whether aboriginals are allowed to explore for resources. Give them the right to own their property, and they will also see any profits arising from their land’s resources.
  1. Trespassing under the Criminal Code is a summary conviction, but under the Indian Act trespassing on a reserve is punishable only by a $50 fine or a one-month jail term. Why is trespassing on some land worse than on other land?
  1. S. 32 bars what aboriginals are and are not allowed to sell. For example, reserves in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta are not allowed to sell or barter cattle, animals, grain, hay, or root crops or their products, unless exempt by the minister or a superintendant. Why is the government interfering in a person’s right to earn a living?
  1. The minister is even allowed to override an aboriginal person’s last will and testament. S. 46(1) allows the minister to void all or part of a will if it is “against the public interest.” We already have courts in place to interpret wills and divide estates, and the minister certainly has no business voiding a person’s dying wishes because they were against the public interest.

Further amendments to the Indian Act are numerous and apparent. For one, amend the offensive and misleading name “Indian” to the appropriate “Aboriginal,” lest we want to continue to perpetuate the fact that Jacques Cartier was searching for India and thus wrongly terms Canada’s aboriginals “Indians.”

The Indian Act places undue and unfair burdens on aboriginals living in reserves.  The next steps for this government are clear: to avoid another Attawapiskat, not only do we need to ensure financial transparency, but we need to get the federal government out of the apartheid business.