Remarks on Bill C-428

Boozhoo ndinawemaaganag. Wabanakwut ndigo. Kwekwekipiness minawaa Ozowaabiitang ndizhinikaaz. Pizhiw ndoodem. Kaakakgiiwaatisoonigaming ndonjii. Nichiibiy midew. Ndanishinaabew. Shabashkaa’ininiwag izhinikaazowag ndinawemaaganag. Tobasonakwutiban gii-izhinkaazo ndehdehiban. Wabanakwut izhinkaazo minawaa nimishomisiban. Gii okijidaag ogowe gichi anishinaabeg. Wiinge nitaa gaa soongide’ewaad ogowe ininibanig. Gaa nibwaakaawaad minawaa. Ni gii miinigoog Anishinaabe pimadiziwin. Ndehdehiban ningii anishinaabemonotawigoog. Ogowe gichi anishinaabek ningii gikino’amawigoog Anishinaabe inaakonigewin. Gegit si na, Anishinaabe inaakonigewin ndayaamin. Taapishko atisookan ini inaakonigewin. Awe atisookan niwindamawig Ganawenimidizok. Shaaganaashiiwag daagii gakendameg. Giishpin gakendameg, maagizhaa giga wiisakootaatemin. Mii e. Miigwetch.

Hello my relatives. My name is Wab Kinew. I am the Director of Indigenous Inclusion at the University of Winnipeg, where I am in the process of setting up programs which help connect Indigenous people with the mainstream economy – in a way that is true to Indigenous values.

In my Ojibwe language introduction I told you about my lineage. I am a member of the lynx clan. My people are known as the Lake of the Woods Anishinaabe. My father was Tobasonakwut. My grandfather the original Wabanakwut. They gave to me the Anishinaabe way. My father spoke to me in the Anishinaabe language. Through them I learned Anishinaabe law. That is correct, we have Anishinaabe law – a law which tells us to take care of each other. I think others should understand this: we as Indigenous nations, the Anishinaabe being but one example, have laws and governance systems which are still valid, in effect and relevant to our modern conduct. My introduction refers to many of these laws: my clan, my lineage, my membership in the spirit lodge Midewin society. All of these things ascribe rights, responsibilities and define my expected conduct within Anishinaabe society. If more people understood our laws and cultures – we could bring about reconciliation between Indigenous people and other Canadians.

The Indian Act, as it exists right now, is an affront to these Indigenous systems of law, culture and governance. The Indian Act asserts the supremacy of western law and implies that Indigenous laws and cultures do not have value. By imposing a system of governance on us, you tell us that we do not know how to govern ourselves. This may sound abstract. However, Chandler and Lalonde have found that cultural continuity is a hedge against suicide for First Nations in BC. American research suggests that Native Youth who are active in their culture are less likely use drugs or alcohol. If this is what research tells us, why do we continue with an approach that undermines these cultures and that implies that Indigenous nations do not have value?

The proper course of action is to help Indigenous people revitalize our own cultures and communities. The first step towards helping that is meaningful consultation. By consulting with Indigenous people you send a message that you value us, our cultures and are therefore interested in a new relationship not coloured by the paternalism of the past.

The Indian Act has been very damaging in that it has removed opportunities, made dependence the easiest path for many and lead to the damaging Residential School era. I am against the Indian Act. The real issue is not whether or not to replace the Indian Act but how.

Status Indians and others affected by the act have made life choices according to situations that have been created in part by the legislation. We have decided where to live, whom to live with and how to earn a living based in part on the Indian Act. To change it or remove it without consulting us is not right. First Nations people deserve to have our voices heard in designing whatever is to replace the Indian Act for that reason alone.

There is also the “duty to consult”. Changes to the Indian Act will affect treaty rights and Aboriginal rights and so meaningful consultation should occur.

I realize that I and other First Nations people have been invited to provide comment, but I do not believe this fulfills the crown’s “duty to consult”. Is there transparency as to why I and the others invited to speak were chosen? Has the call gone out generally to everyone affected by the Indian Act to provide comment? Is there any assurance that the opinions we provide will be reflected in the handling of the bill? A thorough consultation would not leave room for these questions. Hence I do not believe that the “duty to consult” is being fulfilled.

There is a provision in bill C-428 to provide for reporting on collaboration between the Federal Government, First Nations and other interested parties to develop new legislation to replace the Indian Act. However, this is too vague to represent meaningful consultation.

All it requires is that a report be made. I worry that such a report will simply say “there has been no progress towards replacing the Indian Act”.

If consultation with First Nations is a real priority, then it should happen before a bill is tabled, not after. If there is a real desire for it to happen then we should also spend some time drafting the terms of reference, allocating resources and setting timelines for that process, we should not merely say “Let us have a report once a year”.

Instead, since Bill C-428 is a piece of legislation designed without meaningful consultation with the First Nations people upon whom it will be imposed, it is paternalistic in the tradition of the existing Indian Act. Solutions imposed from outside of Indigenous communities do not work. They have not worked for the past 140 years. Replacing a paternalistic “Indian Act” with a paternalistic “Act to amend the Indian Act”, is not real progress.

We must replace the Indian Act, but we must replace it with legislation that has been designed at least in meaningful consultation with, if not entirely by, Indigenous people.

The proposed provisions within bill C-428 are fairly innocuous. I do not think you will find very many people who argue in favour of Residential Schools or keeping the laws which made them possible on the books. However, does anyone fear that the Federal government will start funding Residential Schools again if the Indian Act is left the way it is?

I do not think so. As such, removing these provisions represents picking “the low hanging fruit”, if you will. That may not sound too bad but in a world of limited resources, picking the low hanging fruit comes at the expense of tackling the more challenging aspects of the relationships between Canada and Indigenous people.

There must be a legal interface between the Anishinaabe law I spoke of earlier and Canadian law. We have an interface already. Interfaces, actually. They are called treaties. We should be focusing our intention on honouring “the spirit and intent” of the treaties. Spending our time tinkering on the edges of the Indian Act distracts us from what we should really be doing to improve the relationship between Indigenous people and other Canadians – honouring treaties in the treaty areas and respecting Aboriginal title in the non-treaty areas.

Furthermore, there is only a limited amount of political capital available in this country to deal with Indigenous issues. If we expend it on this bill I worry there may not be enough left over to tackle the real problems in First Nations communities.

When I visit reserves across this country the problems I hear about over and over again are suicide, prescription drug abuse and a lack of opportunity. We should be focused on tackling those problems. You will recall that Chandler, Lalonde and others have found that culture and consequently the Indigenous laws embodied therein can help deal with some of those issues. Let us devote our energies to improving the relationship between Indigenous people and Canada, and also to respond to the immediate crises many First Nations people face today.

Based on these remarks, I have three recommendations:
1. That the federal government engage both First Nations politicians and grassroots Indigenous people in a meaningful consultation about replacing the Indian Act. Meaningful consultation meaning a consultation process where the opinions expressed by those First Nations and Indigenous people are not only heard but reflected in future legislation.
2. That this consultation happen before any act to replace the Indian Act is tabled.
3. That you withdraw Bill c-428 as an act of good faith until such meaningful consultations take place.

Miigwetch, Merci, Thank You.

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