CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG
While aboriginal protesters take to the streets, MP Rob Clarke is presenting a bill in the House of Commons to eliminate provisions of the Indian Act that foster dependency.
While Idle No More protests and blockades continue sporadically across Canada, the Conservative's aboriginal caucus chair is busy tackling the outdated Indian Act.
MP Rob Clarke, a member of the Muskeg Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, originally entitled his private member's bill C-428 An Act to Repeal the Indian Act and intended to have it repealed within two years. However, he has revised it to take a more incremental approach.
Clarke has spiritual roots, wants to serve
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA – MP Rob Clarke, whose private member's bill could lead to a major updating of the Indian Act, sees lawmaking and law enforcement as his calling.
A member of Saskatchewan's Muskeg Leg First Nation, Clarke grew up in Slocan, B.C., a village of about 400 with Anglican and Catholic churches.
He attended both from time to time, Sunday school at the Anglican Church and even altar serving at the Catholic Church for a while even though he was not a baptized Catholic.
During his time altar serving, he was going through a process to become Catholic, but never completed it.
Clarke, who chairs the Conservatives' aboriginal caucus, considers himself deeply spiritual with strong religious beliefs even if they don't find expression in organized religion.
He was inspired by the example of his brother-in-law who serves with the Edmonton Police Force. When he watched him on the job "helping someone out of the kindness of his heart," he said he "knew it was my calling."
"Policing is not just about law enforcement," said the 18-year RCMP veteran who was first elected to serve the northern Saskatchewan riding of Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River in 2008.
"It's about reaching out and helping people, offering a hand, lending an ear at a coffee shop and hopefully offering a solution."
As an RCMP officer, he was posted to First Nations communities in Saskatchewan where he also took part in a range of community activities, including coaching minor hockey and refereeing.
"That's the best way to get to know a community, by participating," he said.
A turning point came when two RCMP officers under his command were shot and killed. Something like that "changes everybody," he said, of the July 7, 2006 tragedy in Spiritwood, Sask.
"When I see other individuals put their lives on the line to serve their country, I looked at what else I can do out there to make a difference."
He became attracted to the Conservative Party because he liked its law and order agenda. But he also carried deep concerns about First Nations peoples beyond "maintaining order."
It now will amend and update the Indian Act, and prompt a yearly process of review and dialogue with First Nations on further changes should it pass. Now that the Conservative government has thrown its support behind the bill, it stands a good chance of becoming law.
"This is going to be one of the toughest debates I'm ever going to see or experience and one of the hottest topics currently facing Canadians at this time," said Clarke in an interview.
Clarke is one of five aboriginal MPs in the Tory caucus. The aboriginal caucus includes these five plus one Conservative aboriginal senator. The NDP has two aboriginal MPs.
MP Rob Clarke
While welcoming the grassroots nature of Idle No More and understanding the frustrations among First Nations peoples, Clarke is concerned some chiefs have co-opted it for their own purposes.
He said he is worried about calls for blockades of highways and rail lines and the potential for civil disobedience that could risk lives of First Nations demonstrators and police.
As a former RCMP officer who served 18 years in First Nations communities in Saskatchewan, Clarke expressed concern for public safety and for threats by some to shut down routes to the oilsands, major border crossings or major highways and rail lines.
"If Idle No More or individuals start to affect industry or the potential for economic growth, that could hurt First Nations' businesses on reserves."
Clarke expects his bill to go before a House of Commons committee after a late February vote and that's where real consultation will begin, with opportunities for witnesses to appear.
Many First Nations leaders want the Indian Act repealed, he said. But others depend on it. The latest grassroots uprising has not brought clarity. "Idle No More is all over the map. There's no clear direction."
Clarke hopes his bill will start a real debate on the Indian Act, enacted in 1876, that has "created dependency."
"It's also created an industry," he said. Ottawa has put billions of dollars into education, fresh water and waste water treatment and housing, but sometimes it is difficult to see how the money actually helps people on reserves.
"The money is not filtering down to the service providers," he said. Yet, the positive changes don't make the news in the way negative stories do.
There are more than 600 First Nations and he does not expect consensus. However, many First Nations are already operating, he said, with new agreements with the federal government and experiencing great success in building businesses and employing not only their own people but those in surrounding areas.
Among the amendments to the Indian Act Clarke's Bill C-428 proposes:
Clarke says, "As someone who grew up with the Indian Act as a part of my life, and as a former RCMP officer charged with enforcing the Indian Act, I understand the barriers that have been placed in the way of our people - economic, social and cultural barriers - that have stood in the way of our growth and development as healthy communities."