Bill C-3 is now law-Indian Act is amended!
On December 15th, Bill C-3 became law. This was a very quiet affair even though the significance of this is quite immense. It ends the results of a court case that went through three court levels including being denied hearing at the Supreme Court of Canada. It ends a big parliamentary debate among the parties about the whole issue of membership. With the passage of Bill C-3, all those amendments relating to membership are now part of the Indian Act. INAC will go through the process in the near future of accepting applications for membership for those who are now entitled to be Indians. It will be very interesting to see how close the government’s estimate of 45,000 is to how many will actually register. I think their estimates are low. We still have not heard how the government intends to help First Nations with additional numbers to our membership rolls, if they will even do so. While Bill C-3 has now become law, there is still lots of work to do and the Minister of Indian Affairs, John Duncan has committed to further consultations with First Nations. Meanwhile, Sharon McIvor is going to go through United Nations processes to challenge the continued discrimination of the Indian Act and its membership sections. I am sure this debate will continue for many years to come and I will have more opportunities to write about this topic.
Barack Obama endorsement of Declaration of Indigenous Rights
Well, we thought Canada had long delayed their endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous rights for three years which of course was a qualified endorsement. Last week President Barack Obama said that the "United States is lending its support to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The aspirations it affirms -- including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples -- are one we must always seek to fulfill. And we're releasing a more detailed statement about U.S. support for the declaration and our ongoing work in Indian Country. But I want to be clear: What matters far more than words -- what matters far more than any resolution or declaration -- are actions to match those words." http://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/united-states/remarks-president-white-house-tribal-nations-conference . I like those words, words we often say, walk the talk. It doesn’t matter what people say, it is what they do that really matters. I am sure the Tribes in the US will hold Obama to his words for action.
I can’t help but contrast this with Canada’s words when they endorsed the Declaration. They are "now confident that Canada can interpret the principles expressed in the Declaration in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution and legal framework." This basically sends the message that we will interpret the Declaration the way we want to and what we don’t like will say they cannot honour because of the Constitution and law. My doubts are further supported by Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John Duncan (Delta Richmond East, B.C.) comments in Question Period where he said “that the government is proud to endorse this aspirational declaration in a way that balances the rights of all Canadians. ... “ When the government starts talking about balancing the rights of Canadians with the rights of indigenous peoples, you know who will be on the losing end despite recognition of our rights under s. 35 of the Constitution.
Chief’s Salaries in the Spotlight Again
At the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Ontario last week, a resolution was passed that committed Chiefs and Councils to release their salaries and honoraria and other public accounts to their members. Chiefs and Councils should be doing this without an AFN resolution. Grand Chief Doug Kelly who moved the motion acknowledged that it is non-binding on Chiefs across the country. So why did they do it? According to newspaper reports the Chief said they did s at their general assembly to defend themselves against unfair and inaccurate claims they were enriching themselves at the public trough. Not because they should be accountable to their members, not because they wanted transparency, but to show the world they were not paying themselves too much. That is a rather mixed message and such actions should be done for the right reasons-for the people-not for the press or Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
It really is up to the members of each First Nation to require their leadership to be accountable to them not other Chiefs making a resolution at AFN. Members can get their Chief and Councils to account to them by community motions, by establishing constitutions or laws, or by electing those who will share this critical information with them. All audits prepared for INAC by First Nations need to show the salaries of the people in the administration with the highest salaries. This may include the Chief and Council and the CEO/CFO/band manager. What Chief and Councils really need to do is give their audit out to all their members and this information is readily available there. What a Chief and Council are paid is not the business of anyone but the members they represent and are accountable to.
Prime Minister Says he is Making First Nations Education a Priority
Well the PM says he wants to make education a priority for First Nations people. Interesting! He wrote a letter to the Chiefs that was read at the AFN last week stating that “The government has publicly committed to working with first-nations groups and other willing partners to develop options, including new legislation, to improve the governance framework and clarity accountability for first-nation elementary and secondary education,” On December 12, 2006, The First Nations Jurisdiction over Education In British Columbia Act was passed. This was a law that was to give effect to Agreements with First nations that recognized First Nations education jurisdiction on their lands. It is my understanding that 14 First Nations negotiated agreements under this legislation and none were ever implemented because the Federal Government would not agree to provide what resources were needed for the First Nations to take over jurisdiction. This is what happens now in every school on reserve. The tuition given to First Nations schools is nowhere near what provincial schools receive in tuition. A lot of our First Nations are in remote areas and costs to run schools are high and there is no recognition for that. If the Prime Minister wants to make education a priority, he has to start with providing enough money to First Nations schools at least on par with provincial rates. As Barack Obama says, actions speak volumes. I say talk is cheap and if the Prime Minister should start with something as basic as providing adequate resources for tuition for schools on reserve and for laws that are already in place before tackling new law and governance frameworks.
I want to wish all of you the best of this holiday season in whatever way you chose to celebrate it. It is a time for families and friends, a time for remembering loved ones who have left us and the cherished memories we have of them. It is a time to reflect on those who are struggling who may not have a home, or who are still waiting for assistance for their flood damages like the people of Kingcome Inlet. Our hearts go to all of you with wishes that this next year will be a time for positive changes and that we as First Nations people will continue to progress and become stronger as we find our rightful place in this world. All things are possible and only we as a people can make them be possible!