Perceived by many as inevitable with today’s majority Conservative government, proposed changes to the Indian Act are concerning some people.
A group of about 30 people gathered on Saturday to discuss Bill C-45, during an Idle No More rally at the Margo Fournier Centre.
The Saskatoon-based volunteer group of political activists invited a handful of local speakers to share their thoughts during a roundtable discussion about federal issues that have come to light of late.
“I believe that it’s not just this bill we’re gathering for,” Idle No More member Jess Gordon said early on in the meeting, noting grief with many of the Tories’ actions and policies.
Initially focused on Bill C-45 -- a budget implementation bill that Gordon notes does more than just implement the budget -- Gordon has concerns with proposed changes to the Indian Act and environmental protections.
“If the minister of Aboriginal Affairs decides that he wants to go ahead and surrender some of our land, he’s free to do so,” she said.
This idea of private land represents a cultural disconnect between policy makers and indigenous people, Michael Gatin said.
Colby Tootoosis went a step further and alleged that it’s an underhanded means for the government to take control of the estimated one per cent of land in Saskatchewan that native reservations cover.
With many native bands getting into debt, land may serve as collateral, he explained.
“The next thing you know, there might be that potential exists for the bank to come and take your land, and your homes.”
Indigenous people should not be afraid to speak up and have their voices heard, politically, he said.
“The land is what governed us as indigenous people, and a lot of the systems in the world today are just mere attempts to govern the earth, and we all know that that’s going to backfire, and it is backfiring.”
Having one’s voice heard is of particular importance in today’s political climate, Gordon said, noting an unwillingness among MPs to consult with the public.
One example is with Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River Conservative MP Rob Clarke’s private member’s bill, Bill C-428, which proposes a handful of changes to the Indian Act, separate from those proposed in Bill C-45.
In the Oct. 18 federal Hansard, Clarke is quoted as stating that of the 23 First Nations in his constituency, he only consulted one while drafting the bill, which proposes changes to wills and estates, the sale or barter of produce and the steps it takes to change bylaws.
During the Oct. 18 debate, Nanaimo-Cowichan NDP MP Jean Crowder was first to take Clarke to task, chastising him for not adequately consulting with First Nations before bringing it forward.
“If the Conservatives are serious about a new relationship with First Nations, they would withdraw the bill, go back to the drawing board and talk to First Nations from coast to coast to coast with meaningful consultation,” Crowder said. “They have a duty to consult.”
The land is what governed us as indigenous people, and a lot of the systems in the world today are just mere attempts to govern the earth, and we all know that that’s going to backfire, and it is backfiring. - Colby Tootoosis
Saturday’s rally at the Margo Fournier Centre echoed this sentiment.
“There are lot of people out there who were colonized into thinking that this is the way it should be done, but they need to consult with us,” Gordon said. “They need to consult with their leaders, sit down as nation to nation.”
It all comes down to the difference between settlers and colonists,
“A settler acknowledges themselves as a settler, and a colonist continues to support the regime of colonization, or is happy in the arrogance and the ignorance of the colonized processes that still exist to this day.”
It’s not enough that colonization happened, but it appears to be happening again, with Saskatchewan’s limited native reservation land now appearing at risk, Michelle Sanderson said.
“This whole Bill C-45, you know, where there’s something going on, but they’re counting on Indian people not having the interest or the awareness to oppose it,” she said. “We can’t just let it go, we have to pay attention to it.”
It’s about leaving a better world for future generations, Kevin Joseph said, looking fondly at his family, who joined him.
“The biggest most frustrating thing about this Bill C-45, is as a parent, you always want something better for your kids … but this is the exact opposite,” he said.
“Not only is it child abuse, it’s grandchildren abuse, great-grandchildren abuse. It’s children of children of children who will have to clean this mess up.”
Joseph closed his remarks by harking back to a March, 25, 1994, debate in the House of Commons that has re-emerged in the media, lately.
Stephen Harper, then Reform Party MP for Calgary West, rose in the House of Commons to speak against Bill C-17, a bill that he noted to include a wide breadth of topics, “omnibus in nature,” the federal Hansard of the day quotes him as saying.
“Mr. Speaker, I would argue that the subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles,” Harper said.
“The omnibus bills we have before us attempt to amend several different existing laws. How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?”
Laughing at Harper’s comments 18 years later, Joseph said something he thought he’d never say.
“I wholeheartedly agree with Stephen Harper in the 1990s,” he said.
The Tories’ latest omnibus bill, Bill C-45, counts a breadth of 430 pages. The omnibus bill Harper spoke against in 1994 is made up of 24 pages.