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.

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.

January 28, 2013
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

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and blockades continue sporadically across Canada, the Conservative's aboriginal caucus chair is busy tackling the outdated Indian Act.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originally entitled his private member's bill C-428 An Act to Repeal the Indian Act and intended to have it repealed within two years.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.

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

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."

FOSTERS DEPENDENCY

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.

MANY AMENDMENTS

Among the amendments to the Indian Act Clarke's Bill C-428 proposes:

  • Repeal the section on wills and estates that says the Indian Affairs minister must approve wills for them to be valid.
  • Repeal the section that does not allow First Nations to sell their produce without the minister's permission.
  • Repeal of the section that forces First Nations to get ministerial approval of their bylaws.
  • Repeal any sections that restrict trade with First Nations.
  • Repeal of how First Nations peoples are described and the removal of all references to residential schools.

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."