There are two questions that Europeans have had since they first came across Indians: "Who are these people, and what do we do with them?" They really have never answered either question.
First, how are we described? It's either the noble savage or the drunken Indian, with very little in between. The real people who live, work, laugh and love are somehow unknown.
How about what to do with us? They made treaties with First Nations across Western Canada but failed to follow up. Instead, we were warehoused on reserves, locked up in jails or boarding schools, and institutionalized.
Indian policy has been a policy of control, which brings me to the crossroads of today. Everyone agrees that the Indian Act is not a viable tool for the modern world, but First Nations people fear what results the changes being proposed will bring.
If the government seriously wants to make changes and amend the Indian Act, it will have to answer both questions. Who are we, and where are we going?
So far any proposed changes to the Indian Act have been cosmetic and fail to take the legislation into the 21st century. The Accountability Act is a diversion that will appeal to the Conservative base and get some First Nations leaders in a lather, but accountability should be a matter of course for all elected officials.
In fact, most First Nations routinely share financial information with band members. My First Nation holds an annual band meeting to release the audit statement and answer questions. Chief and council salaries also are made public.
The problem will be the clause stating that First Nations-owned businesses also must make their financial reports public. This is discriminatory and leaves these businesses vulnerable to snooping by competitors who aren't bound by the same rule.
I suspect the government will ram it through and later have to remove it after a successful court challenge.
It will be a waste of time and resources, but that's how things work in Ottawa these days. By focusing on a distraction, the government will be ignoring the reality of the First Nations-Canada relationship that exists both historically and in recent court decisions.
Both the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the British North America Act of 1867 clearly lay out that "Indians" are a responsibility of the federal government. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms also recognizes and affirms our aboriginal and treaty rights. Since the charter was enacted in 1982, First Nations have won a series of court cases that have steadily fleshed out our treaty and aboriginal rights.
In order to finance the legal fees, First Nations had relied heavily on the federal court challenges program.
It should be seen as no fluke that when the Conservatives took office, one of their first acts was to axe this very important program.
When it comes to future legislation, the First Nations and the government are heading in opposite directions. First Nations see self-government and resource rights as the two most important building blocks in our future. Resource revenue sharing, and treaty rights linked to strong, accountable First Nations governments are the recipe for the future in Indian country.
The federal government, however, is continuing with the outdated policy of control over First Nations. Through such initiatives as the privatization of First Nations land, it wants to take us in the direction of destruction. Other legislation will lead to making municipalities out of our first Nations governments.
First Nations are in a powerful position. We have a strong base of legal opinion on our side. The Supreme Court has ruled that governments have a duty to consult First Nations about any changes that affect them.
In his book Resource Rulers, author and lawyer Bill Gallagher points out that since the charter recognized the existence of First Nations treaty and aboriginal rights, we have been on a winning streak. At last count there have been 170 court rulings in our favour. The legal landscape has experienced a seismic shift, and we now need the legislative framework to build on the rulings.
This fact has been conveniently ignored by the federal government. Its Accountability Act and "municipal" point of view is nothing new for federal policy on Indians. It is a move back to the 1950s at a time when we should be looking at the long term and what we need to get to the 2050s
This is a fight that the government only can win through brute force. Already, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan is on the record stating that if First Nations fail to knuckle under to his Accountability Act, he will withhold funding; this for a piece of legislation that hasn't even been debated.
First Nations policy for the Harper Conservatives is their way or the doorway. In the long term, both democracy and the law are on the side of First Nations.see story here