#IdleNoMore and the changes to the Indian Act explained

I have debated a great deal about writing this blog post but after attending an event on my university’s campus, I was inspired to write about this topic and share the information I have gathered over the last little while.
I am not writing the Idle No More movement in general. Rather, I am writing about a specific topic and that is the assumption that the paternalistic, unilateral omnibus bill that received its third reading on December 12, 2012 does not mean economic prosperity or property ownership to help with economic prosperity for First Nations and its on-reserve members. When this movement began, I was a little overwhelmed with joy in how fast it was growing. It must be noted that this isn’t the first time Indigenous activism has ameliorated itself within North America. It would be a safe assumption to say that Indigenous activism and Indigenous political activism has been around since confederation of Canada.
To begin this post, I was motivated to write something after one of my amazing friends on campus asked me if I had a resource that was easy to read on the bill that received so much attention since beginning of Idle No More (INM). So I have provided some of those resources to her and also for my readers listed below.
There is an easy to read article HERE and a resource on the INM site HERE. I would recommend reading over those two articles before continuing onto reading the rest of this post because there is a wealth of information in either two resources. I would also recommend checking out this resource HERE and also reading this INM for dummies article HERE.
The article that she forwarded to me was a little bit disturbing because it was entirely wrong with respect to the references it made to the Indian Act. While this post she forwarded to me was well-written and somewhat thoroughly researched, it did not provide an accurate representation of what the real issues are with Harper’s latest assimilative efforts and misinterprets much of the resources the blogger, Mr. Bergen, makes reference too (Thank you to Mr. Bergen who provided the resources and links to them so that I didn’t have to do too much digging around). Mr. Bergen states the following,
”The explanatory notes say that the changes are as a result of concerns with the current land designation regime voiced by the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, and the Auditor General.  The original land designation process was at the request of a First Nation back in 1988, so they would not have to initiate a land surrender.  I therefore find the claim of no consultation to be a little false in this case.” – Dan Bergen
The way the Indian Act works is quite intricate and sometimes it is hard to understand when you read it at first glance. The Indian Act also has several regulations attached to it, which Mr. Bergen fails to take into consideration. This initial consultation that Mr. Bergen reference was done back in 1988 and was done with the Kamloops First Nation in an effort to change the way economic development is done with the First Nation. The problem with this bill is that it assumes that all First Nations have the same needs and the same wants. That is not true. That is colonial in nature. I thought it was interesting that this post pointed out the fact that the initial consultation was done in 1988 over 20 years ago. I am sure that the needs and wants of the First Nation and its member probably changed, just like the rest of society has changed over the past 20 years. This is where First Nations are sort of left in a double bind: we cannot grow and change with the rest of society and we are expected to remain in the same position we were in 20, 50, 100, 200 years ago. Yet, when we assert our rights to sovereignty, we are ostracized for allegedly interfering with our own and the rest of the country’s economic growth.
When my friend sent me her message, I told her simply that the argument made in Bergen’s post are wrong. I told her plainly that what these changes to the Indian Act would mean for the Canadian government:
They [the Canadian government] need to get permission but they don’t have to have everyone’s permission from the community because even the last and final decision will be made by the Minister and sometimes can be made by the Minister without the community’s input”
Mr. Bergen, who I previously referenced, even provided the awesomely inadequate summary made by the Canadian government itself. That summary can be found HERE.
In this summary, the government gives it reasoning how these changes were brought about and why these changes are being made. It references the 1988 consultation with Kamloops First Nation. It also mentions how long land designations take which is approximately 2-4 years in length. The reason it takes this long is due to the fact that First Nations take the adequate steps to ensure that all community members can vote on the land designation process, including those First Nation members who live off reserve and who have status with the First Nation. This process is explained in detail within the Indian Referendum Regulation which can be read in full detail HERE.
Another major problem with these changes is the unilateral enactment of these legislative changes. The Harper government unilaterally enacted these changes because of the agreement of only some First Nations, as cited in their summary. These changes also force First Nations to agree to a simply majority voting threshold. So instead of having a referendum wherein the majority of the electorate (meaning all those band members who are registered with the band and either living on or off reserve and are over the age of 18 years) would vote for change in land designation, the band only requires a simply majority meaning only 51% or as was described at the INM event on campus, only 51% of those attending the referendum voting process. There are also no changes in the way the Minister can act either for or against a First Nation’s request for a referendum, which means the Minister can request a referendum even if the First Nations members do not want one. The obvious major problem with this change is that it silences the voices of young people who have a truly vested interest in the way the lands that belong to their community can be used. It excludes them from the referendum process and it also potentially excludes off-reserve band members. Again, this places First Nations in a double bind: we cannot move off the reserve to obtain gainful employment or attend university/college. Rather, we must stay on reserve land and continue to, as the media has been putting it, live off the backs of the federal government and allegedly not pay our taxes (a hugely ignorant and uneducated racist stereotype).
Another assumption about these changes is that it would allow First Nations people to finally own land and gain their own economic independence. The National Post even thought it would be a good idea to have the input of a northern First Nation on-reserve doctor, who no longer practices medicine on northern First Nations, to be published. The doctor’s letter to the post can be read in full HERE minus the Appendices the doctor references in his letter. Like with many other people who do not understand the legislative changes, the doctor assumes that owning land is simple and that allowing First Nations members to own land will help with economic prosperity. It is quite entertaining to read these arguments because most of the arguments fail to take into consideration that First Nations members already own the land although as a collective. Yet, as demonstrated above, the referendum process silences the voices of young people and also potentially exclude the adequate process of informing off-reserve band members and allowing them enough time to vote in the referendum process. There are First Nations who have been developing their own land registry systems such as Six Nations here in Ontario. Much of the land issues that occur today can be partially blamed on the fact that much of the land registry software does not recognize Aboriginal title or Aboriginal land claims. Having experience with the widely used Teranet/Teraview which is a land registry/titles program used by law offices and lawyers, I know for a fact and with hands-on experience that Aboriginal title/land claims do not require a lawyer’s signature. What is done within this registry system is that the title or claims are usually placed as a side note and sometimes these notes are overlooked. Along with this, because anyone can edit these notes referencing Aboriginal titles/claims within this software without a lawyer’s signature, these claims/titles sometimes are ignored for that reason: a supposed illegitimacy. Yet, these claims/titles are not illegitimate. They are very real. This is how issues arise such as the one at Caledonia where developers assert that they have the right to develop the land because they claim they did not “know” (in other words, they ignored the note) that there was an Aboriginal land claim on the land they wished to develop. Again, this is colonial in nature.
Along with these above issues, the major issue is that the legislation is paternalistic in nature and continues to act unilaterally against the rights of Indigenous peoples and their sovereignty. As mentioned before, the final and ultimate decision, and sometimes only decision that has to be made, lies in the Minister’s hands. It can be argued that the Minister does not always act in the best interests of First Nations and its members which is evident when current Minister ordered Attawapiskat to be placed under third-party management and the Federal court later ruled that Harper’s government acted unreasonably with this decision.
In the end, for all those who are confused about INM, I suggest that you read and educate yourself on the issues at hand. These issues are not just related to Indigenous peoples and their rights. These issues affect all Canadians and even call attention to the government’s own disregard to our constitution and law. These issues also draw attention to the Indigenous activism and Indigenous political activism that happened before INM and will continue to happen so long as our rights as all Canadians continued to be ignored. INM is not just for Indigenous people; INM is concerned with the rights of all people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, within Canada.

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