Yesterday,The First Nations People met with members of the government, including the Prime Minister, and Governor General in what was known as the Crown-First Nations Gathering or #CFNG as it was known on Twitter.
The day started out with speeches from both the Prime Minister and First Nations Assembly Grand Chief Shawn Atleo. I watched both speeches, and they felt like two parties at the start of a negotiation. The Prime Minister said they wouldn’t repeal the Indian Act, but would find creative ways to work around it. The Grand Chief called the Indian Act an obstacle to prosperity; recalling images of a boulder on the highway.
At this point, it’s safe to say everyone agrees the Indian Act has been doing more harm than good. In an ideal world, it would be gone, no matter what had to happen. In hindsight the Indian Act was an ignorant piece of legislation that paved the way for disastrous programs like the Residential schools, and in some ways the Reserve system itself. It broke the trust between the First Nations, and Europeans- a trust that is only in the early stages of being repaired.
But this isn’t an ideal world. It’s a lot messier than that, and the Prime Minister acknowledged that reality, when he referred to the Indian Act as a tree with deep roots that goes back through history. This legislation has behind it over 140 years (1876) of history, and traditions behind it. Breaking that is going to prove a huge challenge. And I don’t think you can ignore it; I think they should at least acknowledge .
Not to mention what would happen to the amendments since that legislation was passed, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which enshrined what rights granted to Natives under the Indian Act. I would imagine the constitution would likely have to be reopened, or amended to allow for the changes. At this point realistically repealing the Indian Act wouldn’t work unless there was some kind of framework that could potentially replace it.
Harper’s so-called “creative ideas” could turn into finding ways to help First Nations to form more partnerships such as those he described in his speech. Or it could be something like working with First Nations to reform the Reserve system; making sure all who live on Reserves enjoys the same living conditions as those who live off of them.
The tree that is the Indian Act can’t be cut down yet. The thing about trees is they occasionally need pruning, and reshaping to allow for new growth; and that takes creativity and skill. It may take a while, but I think the Indian Act will in the long term will be repealed. I just think it’s going take a lot of creativity and hard work before that can happen; and it may be a generation from now or more until it does.